Virtual care that integrates with in-person offerings and the continued expansion of mental health and well-being services are among six health and well-being trends that construct a “collective urgency” for employers and their workforces for 2022, according to a release by Business Group on Health.
The other trends identified by the Business Group are ongoing attention to health equity, quality and value; a reimagining of workforce well-being to support emerging needs; and a heightened focus on health policy.
All trends result of recent findings from the Business Group’s 2022 Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey.
Released in August, the survey showed top concerns including health equity, the pandemic’s long-term impact, expanding access to mental healthcare, monitoring trends in healthcare delivery and preparing for an uptick in healthcare spending. The 136 large employers who took part in the Business Group survey in June 2021 represent diverse sectors of industry and provide health insurance for more than 8 million people.
“Each of these trends is critically important yet together underscore a collective urgency that requires prioritization,” said Ellen Kelsay, president and CEO of Business Group on Health. “To be sure, while COVID-19 still has an impact on almost every aspect of health and well-being, the upcoming year will be marked by large employers’ ongoing commitment to these critical areas.”
The six trends are:
- Virtual health is here to stay, but integration with in-person care is key
Virtual health has a growing role in primary care and the management of chronic conditions, and as a solution for some access issues surrounding mental health. Harnessing its full value will take time and effort, however. In the future, the focus will shift to achieving optimal quality, appropriateness, experience and integration of virtual health with in-person delivery. There is a need for patient navigation across in-person and virtual care solutions, in such areas as clinical and data integration, and challenges with appropriate reimbursement; cost-sharing; and policy barriers. Also, onsite clinics are expected to rebound in 2023-2024 to support workforce health, well-being and safety as part of the post-pandemic future.
- Continued expansion of mental health and emotional well-being solutions
The pandemic has exacerbated long-standing challenges pertaining to mental health and emotional well-being, including access, stigma, quality and resources. Fresh challenges have also emerged. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated progress in reducing stigma, it also resulted in insights on prolonged periods of anxiety and stress; the impact of social isolation on child and adolescent mental health; burnout; and the substance use disorder (SUD) crisis.
Employers are providing access to mental health and emotional well-being through online resources and digital therapy, which can bridge access gaps for employees. Still, employers remain focused on the quality of these resources.
- Gateway to increased health equity
Known systemic disparities impact the ability of some individuals to access quality health care and create barriers to achieving optimal health and well-being. These disparities affect the ability to manage chronic conditions; undergo timely treatment for diagnoses such as cancer; and receive evidence-based infertility treatments and recommended prenatal care, among other services.
Employers seek to achieve health equity by offering inclusive and affordable health benefits and well-being programs; seeking representative provider networks; analyzing health disparities globally; and addressing implicit bias and systemic racism to mitigate differences in health status, emotional well-being, health outcomes and mortality across the entirety of the workforce, including those in under-resourced or marginalized groups.
- Focus on quality and value
The prevailing fee-for-service payment model is frequently cited as both an obstacle for innovation and a reason for misaligned incentives. Long-standing fundamental flaws with the health care delivery system not only impede innovation in medical and pharmacy services, but result in considerable deficits in quality, outcomes, patient experience and cost.
In the coming years, employers’ health care costs are expected to increase for a constellation of reasons, including deferred and missed care and the unknown long-term effects of COVID-19. The quickly evolving landscape could amplify these challenges if not effectively integrated into a holistic care delivery experience with a continued commitment to quality and value.
- Accelerating the future of workforce well-being
Leading employers continue to drive the evolution of the workforce, including how and where employees work. Well-being resources will need to shift accordingly. Meanwhile, employers remain focused on programs to support psychological and workplace safety, remote or hybrid work, and leave-related impacts.
Also in the future, employers will continue to incorporate employee voice and choice, focus purposefully on health equity, go beyond behavior change by seeking to alter the circumstances that shape physical and mental health, and both honor and grow the trust employees have in their employers in terms of safety, health and well-being.
- Health policy becoming increasingly active
The health, well-being and workforce policy arena has become more active. This shift presents both opportunities and challenges, such as improving high-value care, enhancing virtual health and primary care offerings, and securing health plan financial stability and predictability. Employers are increasingly engaged on policy priorities such as health care cost containment, quality, affordability, access, reducing administrative burden and uncertainty, payment models, prescription drug pricing, paid leave, mental health, virtual health, health equity, surprise billing, transparency, and pandemic-related relief and programs.