By Michael McGuire, UnitedHealthcare of NY CEO
The COVID-19 emergency continues to change the way New Yorkers live, work, and navigate the health system. Given more than half of Americans have health care benefits through work,1 employers are uniquely positioned to help employees maintain or improve their well-being during these difficult times.
Local physicians and national telehealth providers are seeing a significant surge in virtual care appointments as people look for ways to access more affordable, convenient routine and preventive care, while reducing potential exposure risks to COVID-19.
As employees enter the fall’s annual open enrollment season to select health benefits for next year, more than half of companies report that virtual solutions rank as a top health priority.2 Among consumers, a recent UnitedHealthcare survey found that 91% of respondents are interested in using virtual care resources in the future.3
Here are strategies employers may consider to help maximize the value of this technology:
Start or Expand Access: Most large employers offer at least some type of telehealth benefit to employees.4 Employers should evaluate virtual care options available to employees through their health plan, local care or telehealth providers. Some give employees 24/7 access to virtual visits that – while unable to diagnose or treat COVID-19 – can provide medical advice related to this condition (including in-person testing and treatment guidance) and other health issues.
Consistently Communicate: Employers may consider creating consistent – and customized – communication strategies to help encourage the adoption of virtual care resources, especially in connection to COVID-19 and the management of certain chronic conditions. Some employers send out email or direct-mail materials that highlight the potential convenience, flexibility and affordability of this technology.
Offer Incentives: Employers could offer employees financial incentives for using virtual care resources*. Across a group of small, mid-sized and large employers, employees had the opportunity to receive a $5 pre-paid gift card for completing a virtual visit registration, helping generate a 40% increase in sign-ups compared to a control group.5
Add Virtual Wellness Programs: Employers may consider adding or expanding virtual wellness programs, including ones to help employees prevent or better manage certain chronic conditions that may be risk factors for complications related to COVID-19.6 Employers could provide virtual programs to encourage regular exercise, or telephonic programs that connect people with licensed mental health counselors.
Driving more consistent use of virtual resources may encourage healthier and more productive employees, including helping address the recent decline in preventive services and support people with the management of certain chronic conditions. Telehealth may also contribute to curbing health care costs by helping people avoid potentially riskier in-person health care settings amid COVID-19 and in the future.
*Financial incentives may be less or unavailable due to limits under applicable laws.
1 United States Census Bureau, 2019, https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2019/demo/p60-267.html
2 National Business Group on Health, 2019, https://www.businessgrouphealth.org/who-we-are/newsroom/press-releases/large-employers-double-down-on-efforts-to-stem-rising-us
3 UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey of more than 1,000 American adults, 2020
5 UnitedHealthcare internal analysis of more than 90,000 small employers spanning small businesses, key accounts, national accounts and
public sector employers, 2020
6 Centers for Disease control and Prevention, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-higher-risk.html