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2017 Outlook on Employer Health Benefits


Just two weeks into the New Year, the ground is already rumbling under the Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers have started the process of ending Obamacare as we know it today. It remains to be seen whether 2017 will ring in a complete seismic shift for the health care law, or shake up only some provisions.

Whatever changes are coming won’t happen right away. But there is no doubt that the dual focus on providing healthcare access with cost control will be top of everyone’s minds. This is true for employers and employees alike.

Here are 3 predictions for employer health benefits at the nexus of access and cost in 2017.

1. Cost control will be a top priority

While lawmakers may focus on the Affordable Care Act, the public is focused on lower out-of-pocket costs. Democrats, Republicans and Independents were equally likely to cite this top priority in a just-published Kaiser Health Tracking poll. Close behind is the related cost of prescription drugs.

Most Americans get their health insurance through their employers. American workers are paying an increasing share from their own pockets as employer costs also continue to rise. Employers can expect about a 6 percent increase in the cost of the health benefits they provide in 2017. This increase is the same as the prior year. But Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, points out that this is more than twice the rate of inflation and general wage increases. Pharmacy pricing is singled out by employers as a key driver of healthcare inflation. And specialty pharmacy is now reported by employers to be the fastest growing component of their healthcare spend.

Onsite clinics can solve the riddle of how to control costs for both employers and employees. And they improve access to care at the same time.

2. Virtual care will get connected

So far, the promise of virtual care has not yet fully synced up with public embrace of its benefits. Like onsite clinics, virtual care can reduce the expense of travel and time lost from work. It can also provide access to specialists beyond the limits of geography. But people still have a natural tendency to put more trust in someone they've met personally. What virtual care doesn’t give patients is a powerful, old-fashioned healing tool: human touch.

In 2017, look for expansion of HIPAA-compliant virtual visits with multiple providers acting as a care team. A patient can include the provider they have come to know and trust in a remote visit with a specialist, for example. Or a family member can be brought in to support patient decision-making and care plans. All key data can be integrated in the patient's electronic medical record.

3. The "well workforce" will continue to rise as a business strategy

It's getting easier every day for employers to see how "healthy, wealthy and wise" are connected in the workplace. Look for more money to be invested in different aspects of well-being, especially mental health. The costs of overlooking these needs are simply too great to ignore.

Onsite clinics are poised to be the centers of employee well-being. It's the best way to point employees in the right direction and coordinate programs, which in turn improves access and saves money. At Healthstat, we already see physical, mental, financial and social concerns as a part of our care plan.

So in case you were wondering whether increased investment in employee health should wait till the landscape is more settled, we'll leave you with this final thought.

"The time is always right to do what is right." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

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