This summer, 988 – a mental health hotline – will go live in the United States. Instead of dialing 911 for psychiatric emergencies, people will be able to call 988 for any mental health crises. With more than 200 centers currently answering the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (which 988 will now connect to), the hotline can receive anywhere from six to 12 million total calls, chats, and texts in the first year, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Today, nearly 20% of U.S. adults have a mental illness. This year, 56% of adults with mental illness didn’t receive any treatment, with 24.7% saying they were unable to receive the treatment they needed, due to limited insurance coverage, little financial resources to cover costs, lack of treatment types, and a disconnect between primary care and behavioral health systems.
With such a great need for mental healthcare, why do some many people – especially those that have insurance – lack a way to access it?
The disparities between physical and mental healthcare in the United States are still wide, despite attempts to close the gap. And while mental health and substance use disorder services are considered one of the 10 essential health benefits that health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act must cover thanks to the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, insurers still have the ultimate say in what’s “medically necessary”, choosing to exclude certain diagnoses or determining if something is a physical or behavioral issue.
Reimbursement from insurers for behavioral health has historically been lower and patients have been forced to pay more. From 2013 to 2017, reimbursement rates were between 19.8% to 23.8% higher for primary care visits and 17% to 18.9% higher for medical/surgical visits than behavioral healthcare visits, leaving some mental health providers to simply not accept insurance. Compared to other medical services, behavioral health is five times more likely to be out-of-network for members, meaning higher deductibles to reach and more money spent. And even if a provider is in-network, the copays can vary widely – and add up quickly depending on the care frequency.
Employers play an integral role in helping their employees access healthcare by choosing a comprehensive insurance plan. By choosing a health plan that has behavioral health, employers can also:
Given that this is a tough job market for hiring and retention, employers that do not provide adequate health insurance are at risk of turnover. According to the Harvard Business Review, 68% of Millennials and 81% of Gen Zers left roles for mental health reasons in 2021. 91% thought a company’s culture should support mental health.
Marathon Health, a Poppins Health partner, has implemented an integrated health team and primary care model for years. They’ve seen that engaged employees with chronic conditions led to a 29% reduction in plan spend for employers. They have also cited savings with lower absenteeism and higher productivity. And best of all, employees are reporting improved mental health. Especially in a small business environment where the staff is small and everyone knows everyone, caring for employees strikes a more personal chord.
For employers, having poor mental health in the workplace can lead to notable financial loss. Severe forms of depression cost employers an estimated $12,000 per employee per year in absenteeism. Employees with untreated mental health issues use non-psychiatric inpatient and outpatient services three times more than those who receive treatment.
Ensuring you're providing employees with a health plan that has sufficient behavioral health coverage should be one of the highest priorities for employers in 2022. Integrating behavioral health into your health plan can not only help retention and increase productivity, but can save costs and lead to a better mental health culture in the country.