Evaluating a Virtual Healthcare Benefit: A Must-Have to Attract Workers

Workforce Shortages in Lower-Wage Jobs Will Still Be Around After the Pandemic Recovery

One thing the current statistics don’t tell you, is there was a growing labor shortage in many low-wage sectors of the workforce, BEFORE the pandemic. In fact, here is a quote from the Monthly Labor Review, published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in October 2018:  

“Then, the authors expect retirements to keep rising through the 2020s, so that, by the end of that decade, the participation rate will have declined by approximately 4 percentage points over the 2016 rate. In short, the labor force participation rate of the late 2020s is projected to be about 59 percent, a rate not seen since the 1950s and 1960s, before women began to enter the labor force in increasing numbers.”  

In all the numbers you may be seeing about the current shortage, and the causes thereof, you are hard-pressed to find anyone putting the shortage in perspective against this backdrop. Amidst all the headlines and noise, economists who predict the current shortage to be temporary (as extended unemployment insurance benefits are cut off), are ignoring the reality of baby-boomers retiring in mass and the changing attitudes of people who fill low-wage jobs; jobs that in certain industries can almost be synonymous with essential.   

ACA-Compliant Plans Contribute to Lower Access to Primary Care for Low Wage Workers

We also need to bring further perspective to today’s predicament. The ACA, which just survived another challenge before the Supreme Court, is here to stay. While low-wage employees are covered for pre-existing conditions and have unlimited coverage under an ACA-compliant plan, the same problems exist as they did before. The affordability requirement of the ACA means low-wage workers deductibles and co-pays are astronomical. Low wage workers must come out of pocket thousands upon thousands of dollars, before they can access coverage for everyday healthcare needs like simple doctor’s visits, urgent care, vision and dental. For the average working family, with an average deductible of $5,000 to $6,000, and less than $1000 in savings, this can mean financial ruin.  

Access to Mental Healthcare Services, Now Essential and Driving Change

The discrepancies in financial access to healthcare have not changed, but needs have. One thing the pandemic exposed, in a dramatic way, is the overwhelming need for mental healthcare services. The other is a shift in the attitude toward virtual healthcare. Both are intertwined; without virtual healthcare, vast numbers of rural workers have no access to mental healthcare. Although virtual healthcare has been around a while, now it is not just rural, small-town Americans that benefit from better access to both mental healthcare services and primary virtual care.  

A Dramatic Jump in Virtual Healthcare Acceptance and Adoption Rates

Virtual care has become mainstream. Over 40% of Americans report using virtual care (in some form) in the past year, and 76% are pleased with the outcome. People are more likely to actually see a doctor at the onset of a problem, because it is simply easier and alleviates the stress from lost wages and stresses  associated with missing work, finding transportation, and making arrangements for child or eldercare.  

The Competitive Advantages for Employers Who Have a Virtual Healthcare Benefit

With employees willing and eager to use virtual healthcare, employers can expect better health outcomes, a healthier work force and less downtime. This can amount to significant savings, but more yet, your employees will feel less stressed, more valued, and less likely to seek employment elsewhere.  

Under an employer-sponsored Fixed Indemnity Medical and Ancillary Insurance Plan, it does not have to cost you anything, but it must provide real value at an affordable price. Now is the time to add a virtual care benefit or evaluate the one you have. Let’s look at the field first from a broad perspective.  

Buyer Beware: There Are Differences in Providers 

This is an emerging field with different business models. This is where employers need to be careful. Some providers are modeled around “asking an expert.”   This is not virtual primary care. They may give you an opinion—with a heavy disclaimer—but in the end, if you have something that needs treatment, you will still be advised to see a doctor on-site. Paying for these opinions provide very little value.  

There are also providers that can diagnose and treat health problems. Most providers have limits on the conditions they will treat, and it can vary significantly. Some will treat chronic conditions, such as diabetes, and others will not. Some cannot fill prescriptions.  

Also costs and payment methods vary. Some providers ask you to subscribe to their services and then charge fees that provide little cost-savings over an in-person visit. Some have 90,000 doctors from which to choose. Others may provide valuable second opinions— or not so valuable.   

The Bottom Line 

The train has left the station. Virtual primary healthcare is going to be the biggest change-agent in the delivery of healthcare in half a century. If you are competing for lower-wage workers, revisit your virtual healthcare benefit. If you don’t have one, it is essential to add one now. Lower wage workers are in the driver’s seat right now, and although the shortage may be alleviated, the long-term prognosis is still the same. It’s a minimum requirement now in any employers’ benefits strategy to have a virtual care benefit in order to compete for workers.

Perspective by J. Marshall Dye, III, President and CEO, Insurance Applications Group

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