How Is COVID-19 Impacting Employee Health Benefits?

For most people, 2020 was a year to reflect on health. After all, COVID-19 forced everyone to consider several “what if?” questions. Many healthy individuals who rarely needed medical treatment or the services of a hospital in the past started to ask themselves what would happen if they contract the coronavirus. What would a few days in the hospital cost? Does their plan cover the necessary drugs and treatments?

Questions like these are just the tip of the iceberg as the pandemic puts health benefit plans under a microscope. Here’s what that means for businesses seeking to address these employee concerns.

How are Health Benefit Plans Changing Due to COVID?

At a time when 50% of Americans say the pandemic has negatively affected their health or the health of someone in their household, it should come as no surprise that health insurance providers have taken action. Nearly every provider is adapting to the situation in some way, changing their processes to best support their customers.

At a glance, providers are changing health plans by:

  • Expanding access to virtual or telehealth programs and lowering the cost of those visits
  • Increasing mental health support
  • Allowing early refills on prescriptions and extending prior authorizations
  • Waiving copays related to COVID screening
  • Making mail prescriptions easier
  • Granting premium credits to customers facing economic hardship
  • Launching new guides and tools meant to alleviate concern
  • Revisiting cost-sharing procedures
  • Assessing how they manage high-cost claims

The list of changes can be lengthy, as most providers are now operating in some different way than they were before the pandemic. For employers, this can quickly create confusion. Have the providers of the plans they offer to employees changed? Do employees know what those changes mean for them? Are employees even aware of these changes?

Communication Is Crucial

Ultimately, the perceived success or failure of an employer’s health benefit offerings comes down to communication. Most urgently, company leaders need to have discussions with employees about their health plans. There will be more questions than ever on the topic, making the channel of communication crucial for the foreseeable future. Answering those questions takes more than just sending a lengthy PDF full of fine print; it means holding meetings, giving presentations, opening up forums for discussion, and having an open-door policy. If employees want to know how their health plans are changing or need help interpreting what their plans mean, they’ll first look to you for the answers.

These discussions surrounding health benefit offerings are not limited to COVID. Yes, employees want to know what the pandemic means for them, but they’re asking about their healthcare in general. What happens if their child breaks a leg; what would that cost? What doctors can they visit? Is their spouse receiving the same level of benefits as them? Are they on the right insurance plan for their concerns, or should they switch plans during open enrollment?

Studies show that 57% of employees say that their health benefits package is more important than before, with 42% willing to sacrifice additional pay each month for a more expansive health plan. Most startling, only 40% of employees felt the health resources their employer provides are enough to meet their needs. That means businesses are either not offering the right benefits or are not clearly communicating how robust their benefits are.

In many cases, it may be best to conduct an employee survey. It’s difficult to deliver what employees want if you don’t know what that is, and the right survey can uncover what they truly desire from their health plans. Armed with the right information, you can then seek to fulfill those needs. That may require working with other providers, partnering with a PEO, or communicating with current carriers to help employees better leverage their available options.

COVID-19 and Employee Health Benefit Plans

While COVID-19 sparked a sudden scrutiny of employee health plans, the concerns are not limited to the coronavirus. Over half of Americans have canceled or delayed a healthcare appointment since the pandemic began, and that means 2021 will see a jump in overdue healthcare visits and non-urgent procedures. Are your employees informed of what this all means for them? By opening the channels of communication and interpreting benefit offerings, you can make sure your workforce stays healthy and happy throughout 2021 and beyond.

Synergy can help you deliver robust health benefits and communicate exactly what they mean for employees. Get your free consultation today.

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