The benefits industry is like a merry-go-round. Benefit popularity is cyclical, and market trends and themes always seem to circle back into the foreground in time. However, the acceleration of technological innovation is propelling the benefit carousel faster each year, making it challenging for many brokers and employers to keep up with changes and new products in the market. That’s where New Benefits comes in, diligently identifying the best new solutions and innovation to address employer and employee needs.
2018 focused on the individual’s role in healthcare, and more specifically their access to transparency tools and education and the adoption of technology to foster more informed healthcare consumerism. The spotlight on individual privacy, security, and protection continued to shine as well. As we close out the first quarter of 2019, I expect those trends to continue through evolution of benefits on which we already rely as well as adoption of new, innovative products.
Trends in 2019
Looking back at 2018, we saw continued growth of several cornerstone benefits:
- Telemedicine adoption increased by employers, healthcare providers, and health systems; pro-telemedicine legislation passed; and services expanded beyond acute care into behavioral health, dermatology, and more
- Constant data breach headlines and privacy concerns contributed to a continued rise in interest for identity theft protection
- Healthcare didn’t become less complex or more transparent, so the need for health advocacy remained prevalent
These benefits are continuing to gain traction in 2019. As our comfort with telehealth technology increases, so do telehealth options. Behavioral health is one of the most popular developments for telehealth providers, as is the expansion of specialist offerings like second opinions and dermatology. Access to an expert medical opinion (or second opinion) through telehealth technology eliminates time spent traveling to another city or state to see a specialist, helps avoid unnecessary surgery by finding alternative treatment options, and ultimately saves individuals a great deal of time and money by ensuring correct diagnoses. New Benefits has expanded its telehealth portfolio to include Behavioral Health, Dermatology, and Expert Medical Services, and we look forward to seeing adoption of these benefits increase over the next 12 months and beyond.
Extensive attention was given last year to the growing population of employees who double as caregivers, illustrating effects on productivity, physical and mental health, and personal finances. Caregiver support platforms are gaining traction as a result, and will likely get even more attention this year as we continue to understand the challenges faced by working caregivers. Caregiver support is an emerging space similar to what telemedicine was five or six years ago. As employers better understand how important these services are to the overall health and well-being of their workforce, the more prominent these benefits will become.
Another benefit trend is financial wellness, and the impact of financial health on employee well-being. Research indicates how strongly correlated all aspects of a person’s health - physical, mental, financial - are and how impactful financial stress can be to a person’s overall wellness. While the interest in financial wellness grows, 2019 will be a year of determining the best mix of resources to offer employees. Each generation represented in the workforce has diverse financial needs, and many financial wellness products address only one or two key areas. The key will be identifying products addressing the spectrum of financial topics including student loan repayment, budgeting, taxes, insurance, retirement planning, and more.
Plans for New Benefits in 2019
New Benefits will maintain focus on employer and employee Return on Wellness. We know when clients invest in benefits for their employees, they want to see a direct correlation to monetary savings to prove the value of these services, but the financial impact isn’t always easy to quantify. Focus should also be on a qualitative return seen in the form of a happier, healthier, more productive workforce. This return is driven by investing in benefits that impact total employee well-being, including physical, mental, and financial wellness.
In 2018 we focused on mental health, adding telemedicine behavioral health services to our offering, and we’re expanding with more vendor options this year. We will also continue to address rising prescription costs, which is still one of the highest drivers of healthcare expenses. New Benefits has offered retail pharmacy discount benefits for over a decade, and now we’re making significant savings even more convenient with mail order pharmacy discounts. We’re all used to the convenience of buying everything online, from clothes to furniture to groceries. Filling prescriptions should be just as simple. Our mail order pharmacy option allows members to enjoy significant savings on long-term (90-day supply) prescriptions shipped directly to their home. We’ve also updated our diabetic supplies benefit with a deeper discount and easier purchasing process.
Financial wellness solutions will be a significant area of interest in 2019. Because there are so many options and needs within the financial services space, in-depth research will be required to select the best solution for our clients. The ideal financial wellness service will:
- Address multiple financial needs for diverse populations
- Furnish multiple access points to members, including online resources, chat, and one-on-one support with financial experts
- Provide a seamless mobile and web experience that integrates with our member portal and app technology
There are many new and exciting benefits on the horizon, both for New Benefits and the industry in general. With accelerating adoption of new services, access, and technology across healthcare, I am looking forward to enjoying the ride in 2019!
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