It’s a difficult time for employers in regards to healthcare, whether it’s issues with affordability, mental health challenges in the workplace, rising prescription drug prices or worsening chronic conditions.
These are all challenges that Ellen Kelsay, president and CEO of Business Group on Health, mentioned during an interview at the Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Summit 2023 held in Chicago last week. Washington, D.C.-based Business Group on Health is a nonprofit organization advocating for large employers.
Here are the three healthcare trends that concern Kelsay:
Affordability: Employees are struggling to afford healthcare, especially when it comes to prescription drugs, Kelsay said. Total average healthcare costs on a per capita basis are on the rise, increasing to $17,201 in 2023 from $15,862 in 2022, according to a recent Business Group on Health survey of 152 large, self-insured employers. About 24% of overall health care spend was on pharmacy for large employers in 2022, the survey also showed (it did not provide 2023 numbers on pharmacy spend).
“Healthcare costs in general have gotten really high and outcomes aren’t getting better,” Kelsay said. “Then you have prescription drug pricing. That prescription drug trend is actually driving most of that overall healthcare trend, so affordability across the board is becoming an issue. You’ve got patients of all socioeconomic classes, not just low-income, who are really struggling to afford healthcare right now or aren’t taking their medications.”
Possibly adding to issues with affordability are GLP-1s, a class of medications used to treat diabetes and obesity. While the medications are seen as a major breakthrough for weight loss, they come with challenges as well.
“I think employers say GLP-1s are a good tool in the overall weight management category of how they want to support their workforce,” Kelsay said. “The challenge is that GLP-1s are expensive. GLP-1s are being prescribed for people who maybe don’t meet the criteria for being obese.”
Mental health: Employers are noticing an increased prevalence of mental health concerns among their employees and employees’ dependents, Kelsay stated.
“It’s every demographic: children, young adults, all the way up to caregivers and retirees,” she said. “[They’re] struggling with a myriad of issues on mental health.”
The two biggest concerns when it comes to mental health are access and stigma, Kelsay said. To combat the access problem, employers are focusing on implementing virtual mental health solutions like Spring Health or Alma. To reduce stigma, employers are providing training to their employees and managers on how to recognize mental health issues and how to intervene.
She added that employers are also working to support those with alcohol and substance use disorder and providing education on those conditions.
Chronic conditions: Certain chronic conditions are getting worse, such as cancer, Kelsay noted. Cancer is currently the leading condition driving employers’ healthcare costs, overtaking musculoskeletal conditions last year, according to Business Group on Health. To support employees, many employers are offering access to centers of excellence and leveraging cancer screenings.
Employers are focused on “care for those with chronic and severe conditions and … making sure that they’re getting the appropriate care to hopefully progress better,” Kelsay said.
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