Employees are delaying health care. Here’s how employers can help

Dozens of employees are missing out on or delaying necessary preventive and medical care, which is a major problem for employers.

More than half of employees (58%) have delayed getting needed medical care due to insurance costs or barriers, according to a new analysis by the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), an Oakland-based nonprofit research organization. in California. Meanwhile, 42% of workers reported delays because an appointment was not available, and 35% delayed or avoided treatment for fear of contracting or spreading COVID-19.

The group’s research also found that fewer than three-quarters of employees are up to date on preventive screenings and vaccinations. Among those not up to date on preventive screenings, the top reasons for employees were that it wasn’t necessary because they said they were “young and healthy” (17 percent) and that it cost too much or they couldn’t afford it (14 percent). The top reasons cited for not being up to date on vaccinations were that they dislike, don’t want, or trust injections (37%) and that vaccinations are unnecessary because respondents say they “have strong immune systems” (15%). For the data, IBI surveyed 5,003 employed people in the United States

IBI President Kelly McDevitt said the findings point to a serious problem and are a call to action for the organizations.

“Delaying service has a significant impact on employee health, which in turn affects their presenteeism and productivity. A healthy employee is productive,” he said, noting that service delays also have significant impacts on employers in the form of lower productivity and potentially increased health care costs.

“To address high costs down the road, employers need to act now to ensure their employees get the care they need,” he said. “Part of that equation for employers includes addressing affordability, equity and access.”

More worryingly, the research noted, people with chronic conditions were more likely to delay treatment. 69% of people with three or more chronic conditions delayed care due to costs and insurance barriers, compared with 51% of those without chronic conditions who did. However, even those with chronic medical conditions are more likely to be up to date on preventative care.

“If chronic conditions go untreated, employers will eventually see higher rates of disability and leave grievances among their employee population,” McDevitt said.

IBI’s data is not an outlier: Gallup research earlier this year found that the percentage of Americans who said they deferred medical care in 2022 because of cost increased by 12 percentage points compared to the ‘last year. That figure is now 38%, the highest in the 22 years Gallup has followed that trend.

“It’s unfortunate but not surprising,” Dr. Terry Layman, corporate medical director at Indianapolis-based Marathon Health, a provider of health clinics that works with employers, said of the findings. “Traditional healthcare is inadequately structured to support the health of our population. Overall inflation, especially medical CPI [consumer price index]it has continued to put health care out of reach for ever-increasing numbers of Americans year after year.

“Add to that the access issues created by labor shortages and backlog closures during the pandemic, along with some remaining apprehensions about accessing medical facilities, and we’re poised for some future hardships.”

Moving forward, Layman said, employers must incentivize people to get needed acute, chronic and preventive care in a timely manner. “We really need to remove barriers of cost, access and stigma to avoid delays in diagnosis, worsening morbidity and rising cost of care,” she said.

What employers should do

There are several strategies employers can use to address the problem of employees delaying necessary or preventive care, IBI noted.

Ask why employees are delaying assistance. Treatment setbacks can exacerbate symptoms or illnesses and make treatment more difficult, which increases health care costs. That’s why it’s important for employers to track rates of delayed care to encourage workers to get the care they need and budget for health care costs.

Recognize the impact of mental health. Mental health conditions often co-occur with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and obesity and can impact employees’ ability to adhere to treatment recommendations for other physical health conditions. “It’s important to recognize that mental health issues can cause additional barriers to meeting physical health care needs. Making additional efforts could help improve this issue,” McDevitt said. The IBI analysis, she noted, found that individuals with comorbid anxiety and depression are less likely to be up to date on preventive screenings or adult vaccinations.

Improving access to care where barriers exist. A major barrier to timely health care is cost; this is especially true now with high and persistent inflation, causing employees to pay more for virtually every expense. In particular, IBI noted, high-deductible health plans can cause major affordability challenges. Employers could help keep costs down for employees by contributing money to health savings accounts, keeping deductibles lower, or holding back any premium increases. And to address accessibility challenges, employers can use mobile clinics to meet employees wherever they are.

Create a culture that encourages you to receive care. Consider having some employees of an organization serve as champions for benefits programs and encourage healthy behaviors, suggests IBI. Managers can also be trained to encourage conversations about health care and wellbeing.

Address the lack of available appointments. Finding appointments, especially for some specialists, was a big problem. For example, nearly 1 in 3 Americans who need mental health care report being unable to get it, according to the latest data from Mental Health America. Employers can help by looking into other solutions, such as virtual assistance when possible, or by scheduling assistance programs, McDevitt said.

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