Employee benefits can be complex and confusing, particularly health benefits, which continue to cost employees and employers more money every year. In 2015, the average annual premium for U.S. workers was $6,251 for individual coverage and $17,545 for family coverage with employees contributing an average of 18% of the premium for individual coverage and 29% for family coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation 2015 Employer Health Benefits Survey. The rising trend of these numbers has employers focusing their efforts on building a healthier workforce to make coverage sustainable in the future.
One cost-saving, health promoting benefit employers are turning to is telehealth services. When employers offer this benefit to employees it is referred to in the industry as direct-to-consumer telemedicine. An employee/patient accesses a health provider via telephone or video conferencing for the treatment of a non-emergency condition. It may even be for the management of certain chronic conditions.
Employers may have a dedicated kiosk or room set-up with a laptop for employees to use for telehealth services. What this does is provide access to timely, convenient and cost-effective health care.
- Timely in that it allows employees to access care 24/7 even during work hours. Employees don’t have to worry about taking time off or being away from their family and can receive the care when they need it. The results can lead to maintaining a healthier, more productive workforce.
- Convenient especially for employees with limited health care providers to get access to a physician faster and without having to travel far to a doctor’s office.
- Cost-effective at usually less than $50, while a primary care appointment can range from $80 to $160 and same for an urgent care visit or higher depending on copay and coinsurance levels, according to the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine. And significantly less than treatment from an emergency room which a 2013 National Institute of Health study found the median cost to be $1,233.
Seems like a win-win for employees and employers, yet there’s a hitch. Currently, more and more employers are offering telehealth benefits. In fact, according to the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) 2017 Health Plan Design Survey, 90% of employers reported they will provide telehealth benefits in states where they can this year. Yet, the Survey also found that of the employees who had access to telehealth services in 2016 only 3% used the benefit.
It means there is a disconnect in organizations with employees’ awareness of these services and maybe even how to access the benefit. Recognizing the value that telemedicine can provide employees will not be enough, companies need a strategy to address any barriers to its usage. Next time, we’ll look at what employers can do to increase the utilization of telehealth services throughout their workforce.
Source: Benefits Magazine. Telehealth Benefits on the Rise Despite Low Employee Utilization. February. 2017. PP 14-18.