How COVID Continues to Impact Employee Health Benefits

January 18, 2022

Insurance brokers do not have to be told that last year's COVID pandemic was no minor event. It had a profound impact on nearly every aspect of employee benefits in 2020. That impact continued this year, as it will into 2022 and beyond. It is incumbent upon brokers to know and understand the implications of that impact moving forward.

Business Group on Health's annual large employer survey usually sets the stage for anticipated trends in employer healthcare benefits. Their most recent survey indicates that COVID will continue impacting not only what employers offer in 2022, but also executive perceptions of those offerings.

Based on survey data, here is how we see COVID's continuing impact on employee health benefits:

Increased Medical Service Access

Some 94% of the survey respondents said they expected to see an increase in medical service access in 2022. The number one reason? Delays in seeking care. In other words, executives anticipate their employees waiting longer than they otherwise should to receive care for medical issues. As a result, employees will ultimately require more medical services at a higher total cost.

More Long-Term Mental Health Issues

The need for mental health benefits was already being considered in the 12 months leading up to the COVID crisis. COVID shutdowns and other restrictions only made the need more urgent. According to the survey, 91% of executives are concerned about long-term mental health issues stemming directly from the pandemic and its aftermath. They see the need for mental health benefits as being more important than ever before.

Increased Chronic Condition Management

Next up are the tools and resources to properly manage chronic health conditions. Approximately 76% of the respondents expect the demand for chronic condition management to increase in 2022 and beyond. From a benefits standpoint, this could mean many different things. For some, it could mean more comprehensive benefits with better coverage. For others, it could mean modifying the workplace to accommodate certain health conditions.

An Increase in Late-Stage Cancers

This next point is somewhat curious given the distinct and separate natures of both COVID and cancer. Nonetheless, some 60% of the survey respondents indicate that they anticipate an increase in the number of late-stage cancers among employees moving forward. They lay the blame at the feet of delayed screenings brought about by COVID restrictions.

It could be that survey respondents expect employees to delay screenings because they are fearful of visiting the doctor until COVID is finally a thing of the past. It could also be a matter of hospitals and doctor's offices not offering screening in order to keep patient loads under control. Even a combination of both is not out of the question.

Increased Disability Claims

Finally, 49% of the respondents indicated that they expect to see increased disability claims among employees suffering from the long-term effects of COVID. Also known as 'long-haulers', these types of patients continue experiencing symptoms like respiratory distress and severe fatigue for many months after contracting the disease. It is too early to tell, but some of these long haulers could continue experiencing symptoms for years. They would be ideal candidates for filing disability claims.

It is clear that the coronavirus crisis has impacted how employees utilize their health benefits. But now we know it has also impacted executive management perceptions as well. This represents an opportunity for you to get to work on discovering new products and services that may alleviate some of the COVID-related concerns your clients have. Needless to say, COVID's impact on employee health and benefits packages will continue for years to come.

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