What you need to know about virtual-first benefit plans

A virtual-first health plan with embedded virtual primary care can be game-changing for those looking to curb rising health costs while optimizing their benefit offerings. At Forum 2022, panelists Kim Hurst, Large Market Segment Leader, Health Solutions at Aon, and Paul Scaglione, Chief Growth Officer at Trustmark Health, shared their learnings and strategies for delivering virtual-first health plans to employers and individuals.

What is a virtual-first health plan?

In the past few years, we’ve seen virtual care go from just being an embedded benefit or option to becoming the centerpiece of a health plan design – or what you could call virtual-first benefit design. Scaglioni sees this type of plan as a “true standalone health plan” that requires employees to select this plan offering. “It could either be a full replacement of a health plan, it could be a slice offering, but it is a true health plan,” he says.

“What a virtual health plan allows our clients to do is to offer something new and interesting, meeting the employees where they are, and offering a pretty meaningful financial benefit,” adds Hurst.

Easier access to virtual-first plans is important to customer adoption. Hurst sees a natural progression to virtual-first for customers through accessibility. “I like to think of the virtual part as the foyer to the house,” she explains. “You walk through the virtual door, and you can go to the room you need depending upon your needs, but the foyer is the guide, it’s the welcoming station. It feels like everything we do is going to be that way.”

Where does in-person care come in?

If a virtual entryway to a health plan is important for adoption, where does in-person care come in? Having continuity and data sharing between the two is key. And Scaglioni sees the ability to offer both options as a “security blanket.” “I can get my care virtually, and it’s going to be very well-coordinated, he explains. “But if I do choose to go bricks and mortar, it doesn’t have a significant cost impact.”

“From an employer standpoint, it’s cost savings, it’s access to care, it’s better care coordination. And from the member standpoint, it’s all upside. I get my care coordinated, and I now have a longitudinal relationship with a primary care physician. I can trust that I’m going to be guided through the healthcare journey.”

Expanding equity and access through virtual-first plans

While there’s been a rise in virtual-first health plan offerings and interest among employers since the pandemic, in many ways this is the new normal. Both Hurst and Scaglioni attribute this to the ease of use, access and substantial cost savings that virtual care brings to employers. But health equity also plays a large role in why interest in virtual first is so strong. “Creating more pathways into the right care at the right time is just so very important,” says Hurst. “And I feel like this will help us get closer to getting it right.”

Don’t miss a single moment. Get more insights on the future of virtual care from Forum 2022.