Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums increased by 4% for families in 2021, bringing the average annual cost to $22,221 per family, according to the results of a benchmark Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Employer Health Benefits survey released in November 2021. KFF also assessed the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on workplace health benefits, including telemedicine and mental health services.

“On average, workers this year are contributing $5,969 toward the cost of family coverage, with employers paying the rest,” KFF explained. “The annual change in premiums roughly matches the year-to-year rise in workers’ wages (5%) and inflation (1.9%), though what workers and employers pay toward premiums over time has risen more quickly. Since 2011, average family premiums have increased 47%, more than wages (31%) or inflation (9%).”

With that increase comes changes in coverage and plans, and many workers now have more return for that investment. According to the survey findings, almost 4 in 10 employers with at least 50 workers that offer health benefits reported making changes to their mental health and substance abuse benefits since the beginning of the pandemic:

  • 31% increased the ways enrollees can access mental health services.
  • 16% offered new mental health resources.
  • 6% expanded their in-network mental health and substance abuse providers.
  • 4% waived or reduced cost-sharing for related services.
  • 3% increased coverage for out-of-network services.

In relation to the pandemic and telemedicine, KFF also reported finding that:

  • 65% of employers with at least 50 workers said they made changes related to telemedicine.
  • 51% increased promotion of their telemedicine benefits to workers.
  • 31% expanded coverage for additional modes of telemedicine.
  • 24% expanded the places where telemedicine could be delivered.
  • 23% expanded the number or types of telemedicine providers.

Additionally, 55% of employers with at least 50 workers said they made changes to their wellness program because of the pandemic, included expanding counseling services, expanding or changing existing programs for individuals working remotely, and adding a new digital program, the study results indicated.

“The expansions of telemedicine and mental health benefits were important in meeting the needs of employees and their families in difficult times,” KFF wrote. “These types of changes made sense not because employers want to spend more, but because employers want their employees to see their health benefit programs as ‘benefits’ and to value them as such.”