By Pension and Benefits Editorial Staff
U.S. employers are boosting their efforts to help employees navigate the nation’s complex health care delivery system. That’s according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson, which found more employers plan to adopt centers of excellence (COEs), high-performance narrow networks and other alternative delivery models over the next three years. Additionally, employers expect that telehealth and virtual care services, whose use has accelerated during the pandemic, will play a greater role in their health care benefit strategies.
The Willis Towers Watson 2020 Health Care Delivery Survey found nearly three in four employers (73%) plan to adopt different health care delivery models over the next three years. This compares with 53 percent that adopted these models over the past three years. Additionally, 34 percent of employers currently offer different health care delivery solutions in different markets based on availability and workforce needs. Over the next three years, the portion of employers taking a market-by-market approach will grow to over half (56%).
“The cracks in our health care system are much more visible than they were just a few years ago,” said Julie Stone, managing director, Health and Benefits, Willis Towers Watson. “No longer satisfied with traditional strategies, an increasing number of employers are searching for ways to better manage quality of health care with emerging and more cost-effective delivery options.”
Over nine in 10 employers (92%) report that they believe COEs will effectively improve the quality of care provided to employees. Over half (53%) report that they offer COEs through their health plans. Other approaches that employers believe will improve quality of care are strategies that focus on specific clinical conditions (82%), high-performance/narrow networks (74%) and accountable care organizations (71%).
The study found that the use of telemedicine and virtual care services is burgeoning, and more than three-quarters of employers believe virtual visits will decrease health care costs. In addition to widespread usage of telephonic and video virtual care, 17 percent of employers plan to implement artificial intelligence-powered chatbots over the next three years.
Cost, quality and access to care. Employers are striving to reduce costs and improve access to quality care. Three-quarters of employers expect positive impacts on cardiovascular, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions with third-party interventions, and more than half expect reduced costs and improved quality for conditions such as diabetes, mental health, infertility and maternity care through third-party interventions.
The survey also found employers are concerned that employees have adequate access to affordable and comprehensive, high-quality services, especially general services in rural areas. For access and affordability, employers cited specialty drugs, specialty medical care, mental health and substance abuse treatment as their top concerns.
“With a shortage of medical providers in remote locations, providing employees in rural areas with adequate access to comprehensive and high-quality health care services has become a greater challenge for employers,” said Drew Hodgson, national practice leader, Health Care Delivery, Willis Towers Watson. “Yet employers have retained a focus on improving health care delivery, keeping their eye on affordability and highly localized solutions.”
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