In recent years, telemedicine, also referred to as telehealth or virtual care, has begun to transform how people receive healthcare services. With benefits for both Employers and Employees, there is much speculation as to whether including this offering in a Group’s health insurance plan is worthwhile. Below, we provided some insight around a few basic questions that health insurance Brokers are commonly asked about telemedicine.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine utilizes modern communication technologies, such as phone conversations and online video calling, to allow patients to consult virtually with medical providers via a computer, smartphone or tablet. It’s most commonly used for outpatient services, where there is no need for hands-on care. For example, an Employee might schedule telemedicine appointments if they have a cough, fever or nausea. Behavioral and mental healthcare can also be delivered via telepsychiatry.
How Many People Use Telemedicine?
It can be inconvenient and costly to see a physician in person, especially when factoring scheduling issues, co-pay fees and possibly out-of-network charges, should an in-network provider be unavailable. According to a 2019 survey of Employer-sponsored health plans, almost nine out of 10 large Employers said they offer a telemedicine program to their Employees. However, despite the widespread offering among Employers, Willis Towers Watson reports that fewer than 2 percent of Employees with access have used telemedicine services.
Does Telemedicine Reduce Healthcare Costs?
For Employers, it’s been suggested that telemedicine can help combat increasing health insurance plan costs. Generally, telemedicine appointments cost less than comparable in-office visits. According to a study published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, net cost savings is estimated at $19 to $21 per telemedicine visit, depending on where the Employee would have otherwise sought care.
By these calculations, using telemedicine services means that Carriers don’t have to pay providers as much for claims. As a result, these savings can help Carriers keep premiums more affordable for Employers and Employees. With the average annual premium for an Employer-sponsored family plan at $20,576 in 2019, and Employers typically paying about $14,561 of that cost for each Employee, even just a small reduction in premium costs can result in substantial savings for Groups.
It’s important to remember, though, that these are generalizations and each Group must consider the unique healthcare needs of their Employees. For example, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 26 percent of adults under the age of 30 said they did not have a primary care provider. Employers with younger workforces, then, may be able to see a reduction in the number of emergency room and urgent care visits by offering telemedicine.
For older workforces or Employees with chronic conditions, telemedicine can also offer a solution to keep healthcare costs low. For example, monitoring vital signs, such as weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, can be expensive in a physician’s office and difficult to schedule outside of business hours, causing Employees to miss work. Telemedicine can allow that data to be easily transmitted from a patient’s home to a doctor’s office for a lower cost and without disrupting business productivity.
What is the Future of Telemedicine?
There’s little doubt about the cost-saving benefits telemedicine can provide to Employers. To further increase adoption, some have even provided financial incentives for enrollees to use telemedicine instead of visiting a brick-and-mortar facility. According to a study by Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker, 26 percent of companies offering health benefits with 50 or more workers have such an incentive in place.
As technology continues to play a larger role in everyday lives, it’s likely that the usage of telemedicine services will greatly increase. Currently, Millennials command the largest segment of today’s workforce, with Gen Z already beginning to enter the labor market. Healthcare IT News reports that 40 percent of Millennials say that telemedicine is an “extremely or very important” option in a health plan, compared with 27 percent of Gen X and 19 percent of Baby Boomers. As these tech-savvy generations tend to seek convenient, fast and connected solutions, telemedicine adoption should become more widespread. By 2025, MarketWatch predicts that the global telehealth market will reach $16.7 billion.
Help Employers Make Informed Benefits Decisions
As a health insurance Broker, it’s important to help your Groups make informed benefits decisions, whether it’s by communicating ways to lower healthcare costs or leveraging technology like FormFire’s online insurance platform. With FormFire’s all-in-one digital platform, Brokers can quickly assess Group risk, while providing Employers a side-by-side comparison of different health plans. Contact FormFire today to learn more or to request a free demo.