Employers still bullish on virtual and mental health, survey finds

Over the last few years, digital health companies have increasingly sold their services to employers looking to lower healthcare spending. That doesn’t look like it will change any time soon. 

A new survey from the Business Group on Health, a trade group representing 72 Fortune 100 companies as well as other large public-sector employers, found that expanded virtual health and telehealth services are here to stay for 94% of employers.

The trade group conducted a survey of 135 employers covering 18 million people on their healthcare strategy and plan design for the coming year.

More than half of the employers say their top priority for 2023 is to implement more virtual health solutions, higher than anything else. Nearly all employers already have adopted telehealth services for acute conditions. Roughly two-thirds of employers have adopted virtual care solutions that address diabetes, lifestyle coaching and weight management.   

Mental health will remain a focal area for employers as well, with 85% saying they’ll keep expanded benefits and coverage. Nearly 90% say they’ve increased access to mental health services through online resources, such as apps, and 54% have specifically offered virtual counseling. The number of employers offering virtual counseling is expected to spike by 20 percentage points in 2023.

While employers are concerned about macroeconomic headwinds, Business Group on Health CEO Ellen Kelsay said that they’re not peeling back on virtual and mental health investments.

“Employers are paying attention to the macroeconomic environment and all that that entails from a workforce standpoint, investing in health and wellbeing as well with cost sharing and premiums as they think about upcoming plan year enrollments,” Kelsay said during a call with reporters. “But as a general theme, employers are in this for the long term. They’re not making short-term stopgap investments into health and wellbeing.”

There was, however, a slight decrease in whether employers think virtual care will have a significant impact on how care is delivered, from 85% of employers last year to 74% this year. Also, nearly 70% said they were frustrated with the siloes between virtual care and community-based providers.

Approximately 60% were concerned about lack of integration between virtual health vendors and 57% were concerned over quality of care within these technologies. 

But these concerns won’t stop employers from investing in virtual health to attract and retain workers and lower overall spend, Kelsay said. Overall healthcare costs went up by 8.2% in 2021 for employers after they remained stable in 2020, according to the survey.  

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