Employers increased access to telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic this year, according to survey results published Wednesday.
Ninety-five percent of businesses with 50 or more workers offered at least some telemedicine coverage, up from 85% last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's annual survey on employer benefits. Nearly half of employers surveyed expect telemedicine will continue to be an important access point.
The new data highlight the telemedicine's rapid, pandemic-driven growth: Just one-third of companies with at least 50 employees covered this benefit three years ago. A modest share of companies also enhanced mental health benefits this year.
"The expansions of telemedicine and mental health benefits were important in meeting the needs of employees and their families in difficult times," Kaiser Family Foundation executives Gary Claxton and Matthew Rae said in a news release. "These types of changes made sense not because employers want to spend more, but because employers want their employees to see their health benefit programs as 'benefits' and to value them as such."
Nearly six in 10 U.S. residents get their health insurance from a job, which amounts to 155 million people, making employer-based health benefits the most common form of health coverage in the country, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Among firms with at least 200 employees, 35% expanded the services and providers available via telehealth, as did 19% of companies with 50 to 199 workers. Twenty-seven percent of employers with 200 or more workers and 15% of those with 50 to 199 employees reduced or eliminated cost sharing for telemedicine.
Although 31% of employers reported some form of improved mental health benefits, such as covering telehealth visits, few took concrete steps to increase access or reduce costs for workers. For instance, 6% of companies added more mental health and substance abuse providers to their provider networks, 3% improved coverage of out-of-network providers and 4% waived or reduced cost sharing.
The survey also found that the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance continue to rise. Premiums for a family plan rose 4% to $22,221 in 2021. Since 2011, family policy premiums have grown 47%. Employees are responsible for an average of 28% of the premiums for family plans, a share that has remained fairly steady for decades; in 2021, that amounted to an average of almost $6,000 for the year.