Health insurance

COVID-19 Influencing Health Plan Selections During Open Enrollment

Many Americans said COVID-19 has influenced the health plan they intend to select during open enrollment, while the majority report they are interested in using a smartphone or laptop to access medical services, according to a new UnitedHealthcare survey.

These are some of the findings from the fifth-annual UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey, which examines Americans’ attitudes and opinions about multiple areas of health care, including open enrollment preparedness, technology trends and health plan preferences. Key findings this year include:

  • Many Americans said COVID-19 has influenced the health plan they intend to choose and the decision-making process for selecting benefits. Many respondents with a health plan (44%) said COVID-19 has influenced – or will influence – their preferred health plan, with 16% opting for an option with lower out-of-pocket costs; 11% looking for more well-being programs or resources; 10% seeking more comprehensive or richer benefits; and 6% wanting a national health plan instead of a regional one. Gen-Z were the most likely to be influenced (68%), compared to Baby Boomers (29%). For some (35%), COVID-19 has spurred them to spend more time researching health plan options.
  • Majority of Americans are interested in using virtual resources for medical services, while many are turning to technology to help evaluate symptoms and comparison shop for care. A survey-record 56% said they are interested in using digital devices, such as smartphones, tablets or laptops, to access care, reflecting the surging interest in virtual care due to COVID-19. When it comes to comparison shopping for care, more than half (55%) of respondents said they had used the internet or mobile apps to comparison shop for health care during the past year. For one-quarter of respondents (25%), online or mobile resources are the first option to evaluate health issues or symptoms.
  • Most people with health benefits say they are prepared for open enrollment, while many want vision and dental coverage. More than three-quarters (78%) of respondents said they are prepared for open enrollment, including more Gen-Xers (84%) and Baby Boomers (83%), compared to millennials (72%) and Gen-Z (62%). When it comes to specialty benefits, most respondents (84%) said it was important to have vision and dental coverage options during open enrollment.

“COVID-19 continues to reshape many aspects of our lives, including how people research health plan options and access medical care,” said Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare. “This survey suggests many Americans are responding to COVID-19 by placing greater importance on comprehensive health benefits, robust well-being programs and access to technology to more effectively navigate the health system. We hope the results might lead to positive action to enhance people’s journeys and care experiences.”

Technology and Transparency Trends

Technology continues to help play an increasingly important role in how people access health care information and care. The majority of survey respondents (56%) are interested in using virtual care to access medical services, underscoring the 10-fold increase in the use of telehealth amid the COVID-19 pandemic[1]. Nearly half of respondents (47%) said it is likely they would use virtual care for behavioral health issues, such as to help treat depression or anxiety.

More than half (55%) of respondents said they have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to compare the quality and cost of medical services. Gen-Z (75%) and millennials (65%) were the most likely to use comparison shopping resources, compared to Gen-X (59%) and Baby Boomers (43%). Among all comparison shoppers, the majority (86%) described the process as “very helpful” or “somewhat helpful,” including nearly half (47%) saying the shopping process prompted them to change the health care provider or facility (or both) for the service.

For more than one-third of respondents (35%), a health care professional, such as a doctor or nurse, is usually the first source of information about specific health symptoms or ailments, followed by the internet or a mobile app (25%) of respondents and friends/family (11%).

Open Enrollment Preparedness and Preferences

When it comes to time spent researching health benefits during open enrollment, nearly one-quarter of respondents (23%) said they each year devote less than one hour to the process; more than one-third (37%) usually spend between one and three hours; and fewer respondents (23%) said they typically allocate more than three hours. Among respondents who actively research health plan options, more than one-third (35%) said they expect to spend more time evaluating their benefits this year due to COVID-19. For people with a health plan, the majority of respondents (68%) said they have been satisfied with their benefits during COVID-19.

Many respondents (84%) affirmed the importance of specialty benefits, agreeing that having vision and dental coverage options is “important” during open enrollment. Most (76%) of respondents said they check if their doctors are in-network for the health plan they intend to select.

For complete survey results, click here.

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