4 trends that will shape your health plan costs in 2019

The ways employees engage with the health care system can have a direct and substantial impact on employers’ overall business performance and plan costs. With that in mind, the third-annual UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey helped uncover trends and insights into Americans’ health care knowledge, opinions and preferences.  

Here’s a closer look at 4 of the key survey findings to keep in mind as you prepare for coverage renewal:

1. Most members don’t understand their coverage options

Only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy.In other words, nearly 9 out of 10 adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease. That spells trouble down the road, when employees are caught off-guard by the out-of-pocket costs they owe. Given people’s confusion about the attendant trade-offs between the different components of a particular plan, it may be difficult for them to make well-informed decisions.   

This lack of understanding can drive up costs with greater out-of-network use or sub-optimal point of care selection – for instance, going to an ER rather than an urgent care center. Furthermore, patients with low health literacy are more likely to suffer from conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol,and low health literacy costs our economy billions annually.3

To help improve engagement and understanding, employers can offer resources that support employees. UnitedHealth Group® developed an online glossary – justplainclear.com– that explains health care terms in simple language. 

2. More people comparison shop for care based on quality and cost

According to the survey, more than one-third of respondents (36 percent) said they have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to compare the quality and cost of medical services. That’s more than double from 14 percent in 2012. Among all comparison shoppers, 84 percent described the shopping process as “very helpful” or “somewhat helpful,” up 4 percentage points from a year ago. 

This trend is good news for you and your employees. Armed with actionable quality and cost information, people can shop for care as they would other consumer services. In fact, people who use UnitedHealthcare’s online and mobile transparency resources before accessing care pay 36 percent less for medical services compared to those who do not.5

Employers should expect to see interest in comparison shopping resources continue to rise as Baby Boomers – once the largest segment of employees in the U.S. – now slightly trail their Millennial colleagues in workforce numbers. The survey found that more than half (51 percent) of Millennials said they had comparison shopped for the care, the most of any age group.

To help people evaluate health care options, UnitedHealthcare offers online resources and mobile apps such as Health4Me®, which enables employees to comparison shop for health care based on quality and cost. These resources provide information for more than 800 medical services spanning nearly 600 medical events. The estimates are based on actual contracted rates with health care providers and facilities, with UnitedHealthcare members annually obtaining more than $5 billion in estimates. 

3. More people are turning to technology to shop for and access care when and how it works for them 

From electronic health records (EHR), to apps that remind people to take medications, technology is making it easier for people to access care in ways that fit their lives, rather than making their lives fit around health care.

Millennials are twice as likely as Baby Boomers to describe telemedicine as an extremely or very important option (19 percent vs. 40 percent),and the UnitedHealthcare survey found that a growing number of people (43 percent) said they would be likely to use telemedicine in the future to access care, a 6-percentage point increase from 2016.

For employers interested in these resources, one option is 24/7 NurseLine support to access reliable health information at any time, 365 days a year. Another available resource is Virtual Visits, which offer members the option to see and talk to a doctor via a mobile device* or computer – anytime, even without a prescheduled appointment. Doctors can offer a diagnosis and write a prescription** if needed, helping provide convenient and cost effective care for treating some common health issues, including colds, fevers, migraines, allergies and more.

For comparison, the average cost of a trip to an ER is $1,700,whereas using Virtual Visits costs less than $50and the average time for a session is 10-15 minutes. There’s also a $0 administrative cost to offer virtual visits to your employees, saving patients time waiting for care.

The growing popularity of these kinds of technology resources signal that people are ready for more convenient, efficient health care solutions. You may want to consider them when selecting and offering benefits for your employees.

4. Integrating medical and ancillary benefits can lead to improved outcomes

Eighty percent of survey respondents with health benefits said having vision and dental benefit options is important to them. They also help improve overall health. Seventy-five percent of consumers with vision benefits receive their eye exam compared to 40 percent without vision benefits.9

While these plans are sometimes overlooked, offering them as part of an employee's menu of benefits options maximize the effectiveness of a company's health care dollars, provide families with additional benefits and helps build a culture of health. 

For instance, UnitedHealthcare’s Bridge2Health® program crosschecks dental and medical health data for patients having coverage in those areas to search for missed periodontal treatments or cleanings. The plan then follows up with members to help schedule the recommended dental treatment or cleaning, which has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve the management of diabetes.

These trends illuminate ways employers can best select new health care plans. Work with your broker or UnitedHealthcare representative to identify opportunities to capitalize on these trends in 2019. Key considerations include:

  • Ways to improve health plan literacy.
  • Making it easier to comparison shop for care.
  • New, cost-effective avenues to care, like telemedicine.
  • Bundling benefits.

For more information, please contact your UnitedHealthcare representative. 

*Data rates may apply.

**Prescription services may not be available in all states.

NurseLine is for informational purposes only.  Nurses cannot diagnose problems or recommend specific treatment and are not a substitute for your doctor's care. NurseLine services are not an insurance program and may be discontinued at any time.

Virtual visits are not an insurance product, health care provider or a health plan. Unless otherwise required, benefits are available only when services are delivered through a Designated Virtual Network Provider. Virtual visits are not intended to address emergency or life-threatening medical conditions and should not be used in those circumstances. Services may not be available at all times or in all locations.

Bridge2Health is included for employers who purchase a fully insured UnitedHealthcare health plan and one or more of the following UnitedHealthcare plans: Dental (groups 101+), Vision (groups 101+), Disability (groups 2+), Critical Illness Protection (groups 51+), Accident Protection (groups 51+), Hospital Indemnity Protection (groups 51+). Employers who purchase a UnitedHealthcare ASO health plan may be eligible for Bridge2Health, subject to review of medical care and behavioral management services. For additional details, contact your UnitedHealthcare representative.


Low health literacy and health outcomes: an updated systematic review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21768583

Low health literacy: Implications for National Health Policy

2017-Based on initial indications from 1,000 members. Results shown are not a guarantee of future performance.Eight-five percent of employees required by their plan to choose a PCP do so.

UnitedHealthcare analysis of claims data, 2016

https://publichealth.gwu.edu/departments/healthpolicy/CHPR/downloads/LowHealthLiteracyReport10_4_07.pdf 2017 Employee Benefit Research Institute/Greenwald & Associates Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey

Average allowed amounts charged by UnitedHealthcare Network Providers and not tied to a specific condition or treatment. Actual payments may vary depending upon benefit coverage. The information and estimates provided are for general information and illustrative purpose only.

Claim rates are negotiated with each virtual visit provider group and will vary.

National Association of Vision Care Plans (NAVCP) 2017 report.

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