6 Ways the Pandemic Changed Health Insurance Trends in 2021

By Devin Partida, Editor-in-Chief, ReHack.com
Twitter: @rehackmagazine

The COVID-19 pandemic caused drastic shifts throughout virtually all segments of society. Here are six ways the health crisis influenced trends in the insurance industry.

1. Increased Telemedicine Coverage

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many private insurers and employers who offer insurance promoted the availability of telemedicine. A 2021 study found that working-age privately insured people comprised almost a quarter of telehealth consults during the early part of the pandemic.

The researchers sourced their data from more than 36 million people who had continuous insurance coverage during the study period. From March-June 2020 alone, the research recorded 15 million telehealth claims. This care delivery method will likely retain its popularity after the pandemic ends.

2. Employees Offering More Mental Health Care

The pandemic affected everyone in different ways, and it’ll take some people a while to work through the associated trauma. Psychology experts advise that employers should strongly consider offering more mental health care. However, whether that includes insurance coverage for video chats with professionals or access to a meditation app, bosses must permit and normalize the use of those resources during workdays to increase uptake.

A 2021 study asked small and medium-sized companies in the United Kingdom to rank benefits by importance. The results showed that 21.8% of respondents put mental health and well-being benefits in the top spot. Another 24.7% of those polled put them in the second slot. Those statistics suggest a modest but meaningful prioritization of mental health benefits by employers.

3. Movement Away From Traditional Insurance Models

The COVID-19 pandemic also caused people to become more interested in nontraditional insurance models. For example, self-insurance options give companies the most savings during low-claims years. That’s because companies pay for claims as incurred rather than accepting the fixed costs of traditional plans. Thus, many companies will likely consider switching them to achieve cost savings.

Brian Blase, who advised the Trump administration on health care, sees health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) gaining popularity post-COVID, too. He said, “Employers are going to look to HRAs as a potential way to get more certainty over their costs … I see HRAs as politically viable … and there’s no love for traditional employer coverage.”

4. Employers Expanding Voluntary Coverage Options

As employers looked at their 2021 insurance offerings, some chose to broaden the voluntary coverage offered to employees. That way, workers could pay more to get certain benefits if they wanted to.

A recent survey found that 16.5% of employers considered launching or expanding voluntary coverage for workers. However, if company leaders take that approach, they must set aside time to explain what people will get for the extra money paid. Doing that provides the clarification needed to help workers decide whether the costs are worthwhile.

5. Insurers Adapt to COVID-19 Necessities

Many people who get insurance through their employers or otherwise found that the associated providers offered certain perks to help covered parties cope with COVID-19-related uncertainties and reduce barriers for care. In many cases, workplace leaders had to ensure their employees were aware of the changes. People in hospital and insurance billing departments had to stay up to date, too.

For example, many companies waived prior authorization requirements for COVID-19 hospital admissions. Others made COVID-19 tests free if ordered by a health care provider or increased access to medications people needed to maintain their chronic conditions during the pandemic. These trends illustrate how important it is for insurers to convey to customers they’re still relevant and reliable during unsettled times.

6. Care Payment Options Increase for Patients

There’s also been a recent increase in nontraditional methods for people to pay for treatments under their insurance plans. These will likely remain prominent as patients look for affordable ways to get the coverage they need and accommodate anything an employer-offered program doesn’t provide.

For example, Sidecar Health is a startup that lets people pay providers directly in cash. It recently secured $125 million in new funding to expand its unconventional health insurance model.

A related trend is that people can pay for health care in installments. One such company that offers the service analyzes more than 200 attributes when making credit-based decisions about applicants. Successful parties can then choose from a range of payment plans. Plus, providers can opt to have patients provide down payments or deposits.

The Fluctuating Health Insurance Market

These six trends spotlight some of the notable trends causing shifts in the health insurance sector. As the pandemic eases but remains prevalent in many parts of the world, people will almost certainly see other patterns emerge in the marketplace.