America’s employers will evaluate their health plans, partnerships and vendors more closely this year as they try to create value, achieve higher quality and procure cost-effective services.
This will extend to high-focus areas like mental health, the rising costs of cancer care and drug prices, notes the 2024 Large Employer Health Care Strategy Survey from the Business Group on Health.
Overall, 77% of employers reported an increase in mental health concerns, compared with 44% of last year’s respondents; another 16% in the 2024 survey said that they anticipate mental health challenges becoming a bigger concern in the future.
To address this in the coming year, employers will focus on increasing access to mental health services for depression, anxiety and substance-use disorders. Respondents recognize this could be difficult due to provider shortages and burnout among clinicians who serve this population. Thirty percent say they already see an impact in this regard with another 36% saying they anticipate seeing greater challenges to accessing care on behalf of their workers.
More than one in five respondents also say they see higher chronic condition management needs and increased disability claims from workers with mental health issues.
Expanding options for patients to connect with caregivers through telehealth and other remote access points can encourage patients to get the care they need. Meanwhile, integrating physical and behavioral health services can improve timely access and reduce the stigma of seeking care, improve patient outcomes, reduce the total cost of care and improve workforce satisfaction, notes an AHA report from last fall.
Some 41% of employers anticipate more late-stage cancers in their population due to delayed screenings during the pandemic. And with half of respondents saying cancer is the No. 1 driver of their health care costs, companies are taking steps to address this issue.
Greater attention will be paid to advanced screening measures and maintaining 100% coverage for recommended prevention and screening services. Employers also are keeping an eye on clinical advancements in oncology, including biomarker testing and immunotherapies in the hope of improving outcomes for those affected by cancer.
More than half of employers (53%) said they will look to connect with cancer-focused centers of excellence (COE), with an additional 23% saying they will consider this approach by 2026. COEs tend to be large institutions that offer high-quality, patient-centered, multispecialty treatment. But as Andrew Norden, M.D., a neuro-oncologist and chief medical officer at OncoHealth, points out, COEs aren’t always the best option for those diagnosed with the disease. OncoHealth helps employers, health plans, oncologists and patients navigate cancer care.
In a recent column, Norden explains that community cancer centers play an important role for patients because they are often more accessible and can provide high-quality, cost-effective care. It will be increasingly important for provider organizations to help cancer patients navigate and understand all their options.
Employers’ views on virtual health appear to be changing due to concerns about whether virtual health results in positive impacts on outcomes, quality, cost, experience and integration. Many also are concerned that there are too many virtual solutions, leading to market saturation and too many choices for employees. Employers have indicated that they will be assessing their vendor partnerships and seeking to streamline and consolidate them in the coming years.
Key concerns among employers on virtual care include that this can be a siloed experience for employees due to a lack of care coordination between virtual and community-based providers (cited by 69% of survey respondents) and lack of integration among vendors. As hospitals and health systems adjust their virtual care strategies, it is important not to lose sight of key fundamentals of care coordination, communication and maintaining a high-quality patient experience.