Mental health

The business community’s role in addressing mental health 

Mental Health Awareness Month may be behind us, but the challenge in addressing mental health is a daily one. 

Far too many people in the U.S. do not have access to the mental health services they need, and this crisis is hitting new levels. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one in five American adults experienced a mental health condition in a given year, and one in six young people have experienced a major depressive episode.  

Too often treatment is disjointed, mental and physical health treatments are often poorly coordinated, and individuals face challenges such as out-of-pocket expenses, gaps in coverage, and living every day with the stigma that comes with experiencing behavioral and mental conditions.

However, employers are exploring innovative ways to better ensure access for medical and behavioral health in a wholistic way. Ensuring flexibility to access quality care is key to providing Americans the services they need, and the business community has an important role to play. 

Approximately 159 million nonelderly Americans receive their health insurance through their employer, and research from the Protecting America’s Coverage Together collation shows that a majority of employees who receive employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) find it of high quality, affordable, and convenient. Furthermore, they value health insurance over other benefits offered by their employer, including paid vacation, sick leave, and a retirement savings plan.  

In addition to being popular amongst employees, offering insurance — including health and wellness benefits — also makes good financial sense for business. Research by Avalere Health reveals that employers who offer ESI and associated wellness programs tend to have healthier employee populations and spend less on direct medical costs. Reductions in absenteeism and presenteeism are achieved through wellness programs as a component of ESI offerings, as well as improvements to employees’ access to care. 

This analysis also finds wellness programs paired with ESI yield positive health impacts that contribute to the overall return on investment (ROI) of employers offering health insurance to their workforce. For 2022, employers earned an average ROI of 47% from their ESI programs, or $1.47 for every dollar spent on ESI, and ROI is projected to grow to 52 percent in 2026. Further, Avalere found that businesses that invest more in their ESI programs tend to have a higher ROI, driven in part by $101 billion in reduced direct medical costs in 2022. These medical cost savings are expected to increase to $108 billion in 2026. 

Increased availability to telehealth has also improved access to mental health services. This new-found and innovative approach in patient care has revolutionized the way patients access quality care, and continuing to expand access to telehealth services means more opportunities for patients to get the help they need. That’s why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pressed Congress to extend a COVID-era provision allowing individuals with certain high deductible health plans to access telehealth health services on a pre-deductible basis while maintaining Health Savings Account eligibility. We are happy to see positive momentum in Congress to make this expansion permanent, which will permit ongoing flexibility for employers to continue to offer and cover services in this modality and benefit design.

There are options on the table to improve mental health outcomes for Americans, but it starts with ensuring patients have flexibility to access quality care and services that fit their unique needs.  

The good news is that with increased access to services, providers and employers are better able to respond and offer treatment to the mental health needs of Americans. After all, the strength of the American workforce comes from our ability to challenge and inspire each other—and the more connected we become with our individual wellbeing, the more we can accomplish together.   

Katie Mahoney is Vice President, Health Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.   

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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