COVID Pandemic Shifts Employer Focus to Health and Well-Being

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January 5, 2021

COVID Pandemic Shifts Employer Focus to Health and Well-Being

New survey confirms employer willingness to invest in better healthcare strategies and benefits plans and increase use of advanced primary care arrangements

The current pandemic has, without a doubt, changed the way we live and the way we view life. And it has certainly changed the way we work. Employers this year have faced unprecedented challenges financially and operationally as they've struggled to maintain bottom lines while still taking care of their employees.  Decision makers have been have recognized that employees’ well-being is a healthcare issue – not something that will be solved by insurance.  And many have come to the critical decision point that they need a renewed approach to providing their employees with better access to care outside of the traditional insurance models.

Healthcare costs, which were already spiking prior to the coronavirus overtaking our lives and workplaces, are expected to escalate more in response to the financial burdens of COVID-19. Some industry experts predict the additional costs to be in the billions of dollars. Exactly how employers respond to this challenge was the focus of a recent survey sponsored by the nonprofit Business Group on Health. Conducted at the height of the pandemic between May and June of this year, the "2021 Large Employers' Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey" was designed to solicit information about employer approaches to healthcare and benefits in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More specifically, the survey, which included 122 employers that represented more than nine million lives working in a wide array of industries (including healthcare, retail, hospitality, financial services, technology and manufacturing) focused on how employers plan to address the COVID crisis through their benefits plans and overall workforce strategies. Among other things, the questions addressed the impact of COVID-19, the future of virtual care and the role of on-site services today and in the future.

A key finding of the survey was that, more than ever, employers see investments in health and well-being as integral parts of their workforce strategies.  In total, 45% of respondents cited this priority up from 36% in 2019 and 27% in 2018.

Other key findings:

  • 53% of respondents saw a need to implement more virtual care solutions, believing that telehealth is here to stay
  • 36% of respondents plan to expand mental health services after seeing a greater need for such support
  • 72% of respondents either currently have an onsite health clinic or plan to have one by 2023
  • 51% have at least one advanced primary care strategy for next year (up from 46% for 2020) with a focus on population health management, chronic disease management and whole-person care


A common concern was the unpredictability of healthcare costs, as many employers recognized the impact of delays in care resulting from the COVID pandemic. With so many employees delaying care this year, costs which declined in 2020 will likely multiply in 2021. High-cost drugs topped concerns in the pharmacy area.

A common priority was to improve outcomes, quality, costs and the overall healthcare experience, especially as it related to delivery system reforms. This included greater interest in advanced primary care arrangements, although the implementation of such arrangements was, in many cases, delayed by the pandemic which, simultaneously, spotlighted flaws in the status quo. The plan, however, is to move forward in 2021 with an increased number of onsite clinics because they have proved throughout the pandemic to have the flexibility  and viability to provide the necessary enhanced services to meet the added demands of the COVID crisis, including testing and virtual counseling.


To view the entire survey, visit

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