- Employers say they're beefing up healthcare, well-being and leave programs because of COVID-19, according to May 7 Willis Towers Watson survey results. Nearly half of respondents said they are enhancing healthcare benefits, and a similar amount are broadening well-being programs. One-third plan to make changes to PTO or vacation programs. Yet, most employers said they don't expect their healthcare costs to rise. The survey was conducted the week of April 20, and 816 employers employing nearly 12 million workers participated.
- A majority of participants said they believe COVID-19 will have a "moderate to large impact" on employee well-being. More than 77% said they offer or are expanding access to virtual mental health services, with 60% of employers offering physical health-focused programs, such as virtual workouts.
- Leave policies also have become "incredibly important" as employees juggle new work arrangements and children being home from school, according to Rachel McCann, senior director of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson. Forty-two percent of employers said they have made or are planning to make changes to time off policies to increase employee flexibility, according to the survey. Twelve percent said they allow donation of PTO to other employees, and 15% are planning or considering a donation program.
Despite the increase in healthcare offerings, most of the survey participants said they don't expect healthcare costs to increase. Fifty-seven percent of respondents anticipated a small to moderate increase in costs, 24% expected no increase or decrease and 3% predicted a large increase.
Willis Towers Watson's forecasts of healthcare costs have changed throughout the pandemic. In late March, it conducted an actuarial analysis of self-funded employers and they would see increases ranging between 4% and 7%. But it later found that the COVID-19 pandemic may reduce healthcare costs for such employers by as much as 4% due to the medical care it has deferred.
Employers also said they are assisting employees with costs related to COVID-19. Seventy percent say they have waived telehealth costs, and 69% have expanded reimbursements for over-the-counter drug costs. Sixty-two percent have waived or reduced COVID-19 treatment costs.
Improved telehealth awareness, coupled with the logistical challenges of social distancing, might be the reason for the skyrocketing increase in employee use of the benefit. Telehealth visits could surpass 1 billion by the end of this year with most virtual visits related to the pandemic, a Forrester report shared with HR Dive predicted. Experts have said that employee impressions of telehealth during the pandemic have been positive and recommend that employers actively encourage employees to use such services.