- Large employers are projecting their health care benefit costs to surpass $15,500 per employee in 2021, Business Group on Health's annual survey finds.
- That would represent a 5.3% increase in costs, estimated at $14,769 this year.
- The health plans are also expected to expand virtual care, mental health and emotional well-being offerings to employees.
The 5.3% increase is slightly higher than the 5% increases employers projected in each of the last five years, according to the 2021 Large Employers' Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey.
In line with recent years, employers will cover nearly 70% of costs while employees will bear about 30%, or nearly $4,500, in 2021.
"Health care costs are a moving target and one that employers continue to keep a close eye on," said Ellen Kelsay, president and CEO of Business Group on Health. "The pandemic has triggered delays in both preventive and elective care, which could mean the projected trend for this year may turn out to be too high. If care returns to normal levels in 2021, the projected trend for next year may prove to be too low. It's difficult to know where cost increases will land."
The growth in virtual care is one of the trends identified in the survey. Eight in 10 health plan executives said virtual health will play a significant role in how care is delivered, up from 64% last year and 52% in 2018. More than half (52%) will offer more virtual care options next year.
Nearly all employers will offer telehealth services for minor, acute services while 91% will offer telemental health, and that could grow to 96% by 2023.
Virtual care for musculoskeletal management shows the greatest potential for growth. While 29% will offer musculoskeletal management virtually next year, another 39% are considering adding it by 2023. Employers are also expanding other virtual services including the delivery of health coaching and emotional well-being support. These offerings are expected to increase in the next few years.
"Virtual care is here to stay," said Kelsay. "The pandemic caused the pace to accelerate at an astronomical rate. And virtual care is now garnering growing interest and receptivity from both employees and providers who increasingly see its benefit."
Another key trend for employer plans in 2021 is the expansion of access to virtual mental health and emotional well-being services. More than two-thirds (69%) said they provide access to online mental health support resources such as apps, videos, and articles. That number is expected to jump to 88% in 2021.
- More employers are linking health care with workforce strategy: The number of employers who view their health care strategy as an integral part of their workforce strategy increased from 36% in 2019 to 45% this year.
- On-site clinics continue to grow: Nearly three in four respondents (72%) either have a clinic in place or will by 2023. Some employers are expanding services — 34% offer primary care services at the worksite, and an additional 26% plan to have this service available by 2023.
- Growing interest in advanced primary care strategies: Over half of respondents (51%) will have at least one advanced primary care strategy next year up from 46% in 2020. These primary care arrangements, which move toward patient-centered population health management emphasizing prevention, chronic disease management, mental health and whole person care are key focus areas for employers.
- Employers remain concerned about high-cost drug therapies. Two-thirds of respondents (67%) cited the impact of new million-dollar treatments as their top pharmacy benefits management concern.