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Survey: Among Health Plans, Telehealth has Great Support

August 9, 2017
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Virtually all surveyed employers (96 percent) will make telehealth services available in states where it is allowed next year, according to a new National Business Group on Health report.

Faced with another 5 percent increase in healthcare benefit costs, a growing number of large U.S. employers plan to focus more on how healthcare is delivered and paid for while still pursuing traditional methods of controlling costs such as cost sharing and plan design changes, according to an annual survey by the National Business Group on Health. As a result, more employees will have access to broader healthcare services including telemedicine, Centers of Excellence and onsite health centers during open enrollment while not experiencing major increases in their costs.

For this survey, conducted between May and June 2017, a total of 148 large employers participated in the survey.

Further related to telehealth, more than half (56 percent) of employers said they plan to offer telehealth for behavioral health services, more than double the percentage this year. Telehealth utilization is on the rise, with nearly 20 percent of employers experiencing employee utilization rates of 8 percent or higher.

This report mirrors findings from a similar one from Willis Towers Watson, which found that nearly eight in 10 (78 percent) of employers currently offer telemedicine consultations, with another 16 percent planning to or considering to by 2019.

What’s more, the survey revealed that accountable care organizations (ACOs) could double by 2020: Twenty-one percent of employers plan to promote ACOs in 2018 but that number could double by 2020 as another 26 percent are considering offering them. Employers are slightly more confident about the ability of ACOs to improve healthcare quality beyond what the system does today, compared to reducing costs.

Further, Centers of Excellence (COEs) are embracing bundled payment arrangements. Almost nine in ten employers (88 percent) expect to use COEs in 2018 for certain procedures such as transplants or orthopedic surgery. Bundled payments or other types of alternative payment arrangements will be used by 21 to 48 percent of COEs contracts, depending on the medical procedure or condition.

There is also a growing interest in value-based benefit design.  Nearly 40 percent of employers have incorporated some type of value-based benefit design in which employees receive reduced cost sharing or premium reductions when they take steps to manage chronic conditions or obtain higher-quality or more efficient care. There has been some increase in the use of value-based benefit design to steer employees toward telehealth (18 percent in 2018 vs. 16 percent in 2017).

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