WTW: A look at employers' strategies for addressing affordability

Most employers are putting a focus on managing healthcare costs coming out of the pandemic, a new survey shows.

Analysts at WTW polled 636 employers representing 10 million workers and found that 94% are naming healthcare costs a top priority over the next two years. A close second was enhancing mental health benefits, with 87% calling it a key priority.

Nearly two-thirds of the surveyed employers (64%) said they will be taking steps to address affordability over the next two years. These efforts include enhanced low- or no-cost benefits, named by 41% of the employers, as well as addressing outcomes and care quality, named by 55%.

"Employers are really having to manage a lot of things at the same time," Courtney Stubblefield, insights and solutions leader for health and benefits at WTW, told Fierce Healthcare. "It's a lot of really substantial things that are durable. We're in a challenging time for employers as they try to put together the best benefit package they can."

Close to one-third of employers (32%) said they expect to make changes to employees' out-of-pocket costs over the next two years, and 21% said they plan to make changes to the health plan payroll contributions.

Behavioral health is not a new source of focus for employers but has become an even more significant challenge coming out of COVID-19. By the end of 2023, most employers (95%) said they will offer virtual care for physical and behavioral health, and 61% said they expect to lower the out-of-pocket costs for virtual care.

More than half (55%) said they expect virtual care will drive down care costs in the long run.

Stubblefield said key challenges in addressing behavioral health include providing care to unique populations such as children and adolescents. They're also looking at ways to integrate behavioral health coverage into other apps and member-facing tools to ensure workers are aware of the benefits they have access to, she said.

"All eyes are focused on this," she said. "It's a very concerted effort."