Average family premiums rose 4%; employers boost mental health and telemedicine amid COVID-19 pandemic

Nov. 11, 2021

Annual family premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose 4% to average $22,221 this year, according to the 2021 benchmark KFF Employer Health Benefits Survey. On average, workers this year are contributing $5,969 toward the cost of family coverage, with employers paying the rest. This year’s survey also assesses how the pandemic affected workplace health benefits, including mental health services and telemedicine.

The annual change in premiums roughly matches the year-to-year rise in workers’ wages (5%) and inflation (1.9%), though what workers and employers pay toward premiums over time has risen more quickly. Since 2011, average family premiums have increased 47%, more than wages (31%) or inflation (19%), according to a KFF press release.

About 155 million Americans rely on employer-sponsored coverage, and the 23rd annual survey of nearly 1,700 small and large employers provides a detailed picture of the trends affecting it. In addition to the full report and summary of findings found here, the journal Health Affairs is publishing an article with select findings online and in its December issue.

Among large employers with at least 200 workers, half report that healthcare utilitization among their plan enrollees has been about what they expected for the most recent quarter. More say utlization has been below expectations (32%) than above it (18%), consistent with other data showing a slowdown in total health spending during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among firms with at least 50 workers that offer health benefits, almost four in 10 (39%) report making changes to their mental health and substance abuse benefits since the beginning of the pandemic.

This includes 31% who increased the ways enrollees can access mental-health services, such as through telemedicine; and 16% who offered new mental health resources, such as an employee assistance program. Small shares say they expanded their in-network mental health and substance abuse providers (6%), waived or reduced cost-sharing for related services (4%) or increased coverage for out-of-network services (3%).

Overall 12% of employers with at least 50 workers that offer health benefits reported an increase in their enrollees’ use of mental-health services. Among the largest employers (with 1,000 or more workers), more than a third (38%) reported such an increase.

Other COVID-related findings include:

  • Nearly two thirds (65%) of offering firms with at least 50 workers say they made changes related to telemedicine due to the pandemic. Half (51%) did additional promotion of their telemedicine benefits to workers and 31% expanded coverage for additional modes of telemedicine. In addition, nearly a quarter expanded the places where telemedicine could be delivered (24%), expanded the number or types of telemedicine providers (23%), and expanded covered telemedicine services.
  • More than half (55%) of offering firms with at least 50 workers say they made changes to their wellness programs due to the pandemic. The most common changes involve expanding online counseling services (43%), expanding or changing existing programs to better meet the needs of people working from home (22%), and adding a new digital program such as an app (17%).

Kaiser Family Foundation report

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