According to a new report from the National Business Group on Health, nine in 10 large employers, in states where telemedicine is legal, will make telehealth services available to their employees next year, up from seven in 10 this year.
The group's annual survey of 133 large employers, who altogether cover more than 15 million Americans, was conducted in May and June 2016. It indicated that telehealth availability, among other employee benefits, is on the rise as employers shift their priorities.
"Employers’ focus in 2017 is shifting away from plan design to optimizing how health care is accessed and delivered," Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, said in a statement. "That translates into expanded telehealth services, more Centers of Excellence options and optional selective network choices that focus on providing higher quality health care.”
Partly, this shift is motivated by an attempt to offset a rise in overall healthcare costs for employers, attributable, among other things, to the rising costs of specialty pharmaceuticals.
NBG further predicts that by 2019, 97 percent of large employers will offer telehealth services, making them nearly universal.
Telemedicine has grown fast for employers over the last few years. In 2014, a Towers Watson study found that just 22 percent of large employers offered telehealth consultation, but an additional 34 percent was considering adding it within a year. Last year, this same NBG survey found that 48 percent of the employers offered telehealth services to employees but that 74 percent of employers in states where telehealth services are legal planned to offer them this year. The association characterized this spike as a "sharp increase in telehealth".