Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to healthcare professionals, employers, business leaders, and more at Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech Summit 2021 with Solome Tibebu.
We covered a number of topics related to behavioral health and how employers can play a role in this important field. You can watch the interview below and see notes under the video.
If you have any questions about this topic for your team, please schedule time with me today.
The Business Case for Mental and Behavioral Health
Many employers are either taking their first steps or considering an investment in the mental and behavioral health of their employees. I strongly emphasize to groups that offering these plans is not just the right thing to do, but a smart business case! A more resilient and mentally healthy workforce has few absent days, is more present and effective in the workplace, and experiences fewer claims and healthcare spending.
Disparities Compared to The Rest of Healthcare
We’ve seen tremendous advances across much of healthcare over the last few decades. We have new drugs, treatments, and improved outcomes that are keeping people alive and reducing symptoms for a range of medical conditions.
But such progress has severely lagged when it comes to behavioral and mental health when compared to other fields of healthcare. SSRIs were the last major back in the 90’s, and their effectiveness has since been challenged by research.
With how our live have been disrupted and evolved compared to 20 or 30 years ago, it stands to reason for us to revisit traditional mental health care given it’s reactiveness, cost, and inaccessibility.
The Disconnect between Leadership and Employees
There is a serious disconnect in how leadership views and communicates about mental health.
PwC conducted research in November 2020 during the COVID pandemic and found that 84 percent of CFOs believed they were successfully supporting employee well-being, including mental health and morale.
Employees didn’t quite agree with that sentiment.
Only 31 percent of employees agreed, with 27 percent of remote employees and even fewer percentages among female employees. A shockingly low (depending on who you ask) 22 percent of women aged 35 to 44 agreed that their well-being was supported by their employer.
Claims Help, But They Don’t Tell the Whole Story
Employers can only pair great benefits plans with low costs when they access and analyze their claims data. You can’t reduce what you spend if you don’t know where, when, why, and how much you’re currently spending on health care.
Employers can unlock a serious ROI by emphasizing behavioral and mental health care, both preventative and treatment. There are opportunities with emergency room utilization, improved outcomes with co-morbidities, and aforementioned absenteeism and presenteeism.
Ginger has found claims costs are twice as high for members presenting with a symptom of a mental health condition compared to those without a symptom. This is further support of our view that addressing symptoms of mental health conditions can reduce spending and improve outcomes.
While claims data is helpful to identifying opportunities to enhance benefits and reduce waste, employers need to be aware of symptoms and conditions that fly beneath the radar and thus don’t appear in claims data. Untreated mental and behavioral health conditions by definition won’t show up in claims, yet can have deleterious impacts on the business, as discussed above.
Thus, a proactive campaign to provide accessible mental health benefits can do wonders for a workforce.
Foster a Culture Against Stigma
As I addressed earlier, leadership may think they’re doing great when it comes to mental health, such as providing unlimited vacation and sending emails out to the entire workforce. Sentiment among the C-suite can and is often detached from the rest of the company.
Leaders should foster a positive mental and behavioral health culture by going first- talk openly and with humility about any experiences you’ve had. Employees really cue off leadership.
Leaders have struggled as much, and in some cases more, than their employees when it comes to remote work and disruption. Be willing to talk about your struggles! It creates room and a climate for employees to also be open and seek support and treatment themselves.
Leading Companies Own It
Leading companies take ownership over their benefits, such as mental health benefits. I see a huge gap between the various companies in how they address mental and behavioral health and it all comes down to their sense of responsibility and ownership of the issue.
Leading companies feel responsible for delivering quality benefits and outcomes to their employees and their families. This leads the companies to taking initiative and proactively seeking solutions to improve their benefits.
Some companies wait until a benefit is demanded or otherwise required. Leading companies ask “What can we do?” then work through a process to implementing a quality solution.
Spectrum of Care
Mental health care is not limited to $150+ sessions with a therapist in their office. There are a number of ways to interact with the behavioral health system such as digital coaching that provide need-appropriate solutions at a price and method appropriate for various employee needs.
Despite the billions of dollars flowing into digital health, including behavioral and mental health companies, there are serious issues with burnout among benefits decision makers.
Work with your benefits consultant to filter through the variety of options available and hone in on the solution most appropriate for your needs.
Communication and Accessibility are Key
Successful benefits offerings are not done once a year at open enrollment.
Employees won’t remember their health plan or their dental provider until they need to access care, they won’t remember benefits such as mental health resources. Employers must identify a communication and accessibility strategy to help employees recall resources in times of need.
Focus on proactive communication and access over reactively communicating to employees only once they ask about a program.
Preventative Mental Health Care
Finally, I spent time with Solome discussing the opportunity with preventative mental health care. While the ACA required that preventative treatments are delivered without cost-sharing, most mental health care is reactive and thus expensive and hard to access for most employees.
A preventative mental health plan gets ahead of issues by conducting assessments, self-guided help, digital resources, and more to help employees take steps to care for themselves and develop resiliency before they experience a claim or condition.
I hope you learned something helpful from this discussion! If you have any questions about this topic for your team, please schedule time with me today.