Inflation, an aging workforce and people catching up on care they skipped during the COVID-19 pandemic are some of the main ingredients that will drive the cost of group health benefits over the coming years.

The key for employers grappling with these higher costs is how they can reduce their impact by switching up plan offerings and choosing plans that do a good job of managing specialty drug costs, which have been spiraling over the last decade.

Health spending dropped considerably in 2020 and 2021 as people stayed away from health care environments, but now people are back seeking care that was delayed. That’s caused a sudden spike in claims for health plans across the board.

Also, more health plans have boosted their mental health offerings, which patients have been taking advantage of, leading to further outlays, according to a recent report by Marsh McLennan Agency.

While there is not much employers can do about rising premiums, a combination of measures could help businesses defray cost increases in the near term.

Compare insurance plans and providers

If you’ve been offering the same plans every year, we can work with you to compare providers to see if there are better deals for you among their competitors.

Also, plans can vary greatly among insurance plans and each insurer will have different deals to offer. Even your current slate of insurers may have plans that you are not offering.

We can help you cut through the noise and find plans that may be a better fit for your organization.

It is important to keep in mind that a lower premium does not mean it’s the best deal. Some lower-cost plans may have narrower networks, which could result in some employees losing access to their regular doctors.

That said, there’s been a trend towards so-called “high-performance,” narrow provider networks that aim to reduce costs while maintaining efficiencies and quality of care.

Other cost-saving measures

Insurance carriers have been trying out new approaches to controlling costs, while improving health outcomes for their plan enrollees. Money spent up front on quality health services can yield future savings if the patient needs less treatment.

Some insurers and self-insured employers have been able to generate savings of 5 to 15% by employing:

Tiered networks — These health plans sort providers into tiers based on their cost and, often, quality relative to other similar providers who treat comparable patients. Providers with higher quality and lower cost are typically given the most-preferred tier rankings.

Centers of excellence — Many self-insured employers and more health plans are also contracting with “centers of excellence.” While there is no specific definition of a COE, these providers deliver positive patient outcomes, lower costs, raise member engagement and have high rates of patient satisfaction.

Often, an OEC may have a specialty, like a chronic disease or a specific service such as radiology. Working in tandem with a clinical analytics vendor, payers will connect members with health systems that demonstrate high performance in these areas.

Referral management — More health plans are also starting to use referral management software to improve efficiency and trust in care coordination.

These systems synchronize patient data transmission from one physician to another, and also to the patient. A referral management system aims to facilitate good communication between the consultant, specialist, health care provider and the patient.

The system increases trustworthiness and transparency of treatment and diagnosis, and decreases inefficiency in care coordination and operational arrangements.

The above measures can be applied across the care continuum — hospitals, primary care, specialty groups, post-acute providers and ancillary care — while maintaining access and quality of care.

The takeaway

Getting the cost equation right will be a challenge in the coming years as premiums are expected to rise at a faster clip than they have been in the last five years.

Talk to us about finding health plans that are offering different structures for addressing costs while also improving care for your workers.