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How COVID-19 May Impact Open Enrollment

Open enrollment can be a stressful time. For consumers it can mean: (1) sorting through changes to an employer-sponsored plan or (2) combing through droves of information to decipher out-of-pocket costs for a Medicare Advantage plan. The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t going to ease this sentiment.

Below are some thoughts on what may be different for employer and government-based insurance plans.

Employer-sponsored plans
About a fifth of employees reported being confused, anxious and/or stressed during open enrollment.1 Undoubtedly, in the current pandemic environment, this percentage is likely even higher. This can make planning for future healthcare needs difficult, and impact what plans employees choose in the upcoming year. A few trends to note:

  1. Expect employees to spend more time reviewing if and how their benefits have been altered in response to COVID-19. According to a survey done by Mercer: 37% of companies said they don’t anticipate adjusting benefits overall; 12% said they’ll have to take moderate cost-saving measures; and 3% are taking significant measures.2 In addition, 70% of employees report taking more time to review their benefits package.3
  2. Those feeling secure in their employment may increase coverage from a high deductible health plan to something offering more coverage with a larger monthly premium. How much money people contribute to FSAs or HSAs may be impacted as well. The fear of the unknown could have people saving in ways they hadn’t previously planned.
  3. Virtual care is on the rise — visits increased approximately 175% this past spring.3 In response, many employer benefits for 2021 will include more comprehensive coverage for telehealth care.
  4. Mental health resources and services will be more readily available. In fact, nearly 90% of employers plan to offer online access to these resources.3

Government Plans
Specific to Medicare Advantage plans, there are some updates to keep in mind. While open enrollment for these plans ends shortly, many changes have been made in response to COVID-19 that will create broader benefits packages:

  1. More than one-third (34%) of Medicare Advantage plans are set to offer benefits specific to COVID-19 in 2021. Of these, supplemental benefits for commonly utilized COVID-19 services (COVID-19 specific cost sharing, protective equipment, testing, etc.) and telehealth benefits are most prevalent.
  2. Telehealth had previously been offered most commonly through supplemental plans, but is now more likely to be included in core medical benefits packages. Other health benefits could include transportation, over-the-counter drug coverage and meal delivery services. These types of benefits have been on the rise over the past few years and will likely be expanded due to COVID-19.4

It’s also clear COVID-19 has provided a necessary jolt to increase social determinant of health (SDOH) efforts related to transportation and food insecurity COVID-19 has been devastating on macro and micro levels. Interestingly enough, it’s provided the impetus to accelerate health initiatives that expand access and promote mental health wellness. It’s given a needed push to increase SDOH efforts related to transportation and food insecurity. It’s also escalated interest in telehealth for common services. As we look forward, it’ll be interesting to analyze how permanent some of the benefit changes actually are.

To learn more about how COVID-19 impacts payers and the industry, visit our hub page.



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