The vast majority (94 per cent) of employers said they expect an increase in medical services in 2022 due to delayed care during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey by Business Group on Health.

The survey, which polled 136 large employers that cover more than eight million plan members, asked about changes they made to their health-care programs and benefits in 2021, while looking ahead to 2022.

Another large percentage (91 per cent) of respondents said they’re concerned about long-term mental-health issues like depression and anxiety resulting from the pandemic, while 76 per cent anticipate higher chronic condition management needs, followed by a higher prevalence of late-stage cancers due to delayed screenings (68 per cent) and increased disability claims of employees experiencing long-term coronavirus symptoms (49 per cent).

Read: Expert panel: Supporting employees’ mental health a marathon, not a sprint

“Staying at home during numerous lockdowns meant that doctor visits and preventive screenings were delayed or missed altogether,” said the survey’s executive summary. “As well, social isolation and uncertainty due to the fluid nature of the pandemic proved to be an impetus for depression, anxiety and substance use disorders.

“As a result, employers anticipate seeing an increase in medical services, late-stage cancer diagnoses, greater numbers of people with long-term mental-health and substance use issues and other adverse effects. These could last well into future years.”

The survey also found expanding access to mental-health care is a top priority for employers, with 76 per cent citing access as a focus area for 2022. This was followed by stigma (57 per cent), appropriate treatment (36 per cent) and burnout (35 per cent).

As a result of the pandemic, 76 per cent of employers accelerated telehealth and virtual health offerings — and plan to keep these options in place over the long term. However, survey respondents also see a role for onsite clinics, both to manage coronavirus testing and vaccinations and to help employees manage chronic conditions.

Read: Employees with chronic health conditions facing challenges during pandemic: survey