Late last year, the Kaiser Family Foundation 2019 Employer Health Benefits Survey found annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage passed the $20,000 mark, a 5% increase from last year (which is a repeat of the 5% they raised the prior year.)
This is the latest finding in a trend of continually rising health care costs in the United States that has left the average American drowning in health care expenses while their salaries remain largely stagnant. For many Americans, COVID-19 has left them unemployed and uninsured, causing even more of a burden on health care costs.
Costs Are Out of Hand
The same Kaiser survey found workers on average pay $6,015 toward their health care coverage, while their average deductible is over $1,600 for individual coverage. Though it may be difficult for many readers to fathom, one Kaiser poll found Americans are more worried about unexpected medical bills than life staples like paying their rent or putting food on the table.
Those who can’t afford these rising health care costs are forced to go without needed health care coverage, and in a cruel twist of fate Americans in rural areas are losing the few medical providers they once had because they can’t keep their doors open. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, the simultaneous rise in cost and decrease in access is a treacherous combination leaving many searching for solutions that can address this two-headed monster.
Patients are Warming to Telemedicine
Telemedicine has been around for years, but advances in technology and an evolving patient population that is warming to the idea of “face timing” with their doctor has led to increased adoption. According to recent research from Software Advice, 75% of survey respondents were interested in trying telemedicine. Those numbers are rapidly increasing as patients quarantined at home are forced to turn to telemedicine to speak with a doctor.
In light of COVID-19, telemedicine has accelerated from an interest to a need. The government has quickly put into place mandates that expand telemedicine and make it more widely available to the public, encouraging Americans to use telemedicine as a first resort. Connecting virtually with a primary care doctor reduces close interactions and thus reduces the possibility of spreading the virus. This also frees up physical space in health care facilities for those who are infected and need care.
Telemedicine as a Means to Reduce Costs
Not only will telemedicine be protecting patients and doctors from COVID-19 by being able to interact virtually, but it’s minimizing the cost of health care as well. The cost savings resulting from telemedicine are ensuring employers, insurers, and others footing the bill for health care are warming to the idea as well. Additionally, for employers who are considering layoffs because of COVID-19, telemedicine is a cost-effective way to guarantee their employees can still receive medical care. For under $10 per employee per month, employers and associations can provide their members with access to a doctor, when they otherwise may not have it due to loss of insurance coverage.
As people begin experiencing symptoms that could be COVID-19, their initial reaction may be to panic and head straight for an ER not realizing how costly that decision might be, especially if their symptoms are mild and an ER visit is not necessary. Utilizing telemedicine has proven to reduce costs in instances such as this. Researchers found that the majority of savings from telemedicine come from diverting patients from the ER to a telemedicine visit first. Every avoided ER visit led to cost savings between $309 and more than $1,500.
To be sure, telemedicine is not a miraculous salve that can be rubbed on our inadequate system and magically create health care utopia. There is a myriad of problems that have resulted from years of poor decision making and have only been exacerbated due to our current situation.
However, when utilized appropriately, telemedicine can be a valuable tool to expand access to health care services at an affordable price. And if we are lucky, perhaps next year’s Kaiser study will only find a 4% increase in premiums.
To ensure everyone has access to care during these tough times, we are offering telehealth & telebehavioral health services for individuals/families for just $10/mo and group plans at a discounted rate. Click below to learn more: