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COVID-19 Impacts on Behavioral Health

COVID-19 Impacts on Behavioral Health

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Health experts agree that we are in the middle of a mental health pandemic. According to a health tracking poll from Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 4 in 10 Americans say that worry and stress related to the threat of COVID-19 has played a negative role in their mental health.1 Substance abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs have also increased dramatically. And the pandemic has created a perfect storm of stressors for children and students. So how can employers provide a balanced benefit package with the tools that their employees and their dependents need right now?

Implementing an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is one way to help. An EAP can provide employees with no-cost, confidential help for a variety of needs and concerns including stress management, domestic violence, substance abuse, psychological disorders, and more. In many cases an EAP is part of a benefit that is currently offered to your staff. EAPs are a useful introductory step towards identifying problem areas. Often, they don’t directly address the needs of ongoing behavioral health.

Behavioral health, or mental health, can be defined as consisting of the emotions, behaviors, and physical health changes related to mental well-being. This can include everything from eating habits to drinking habits, to exercise and various mental health challenges.

People with behavioral health issues can increase health costs and claims. For example, people suffering from depression submit an average of $14,967 in claims annually, as compared with $5,929 for the total population. And those suffering from stress and depression have increased health costs – 70% for illness and 46% for disability.2

Managed behavioral health programs can provide a consultative clinical and professional approach to behavioral health, substance abuse, and comorbid conditions. These programs can integrate with ongoing medical care to ensure better outcomes for patients. Many insurance carriers may include behavioral health services in their medical plans; however, the carrier does not actually manage the care/results.

Adding telemedicine to your benefit package is a good starting point. Telemedicine is a form of technology-based communication that allows a patient to communicate with a doctor without being at the same physical location. Telemedicine can be used for non-emergency medical conditions like cold, flu, earaches, rash, and fever. It is not for emergency situations such as broken bones, heart attack, or stroke. An employee would have access to acute care, behavioral health (mental, chemical, or physical), primary care, and pharmacy. With telemedicine, a client with 90 medical lives could save $30,000 per year after implementation.

While virtual care for acute needs and primary care has been generally accepted and available for employees, the need for behavioral health virtual services hasn’t been addressed. Behavioral healthcare expenses are typically found in the top four of diagnostic expenses (besides musculoskeletal, cancer, and obstetrics).

If your medical plan includes behavioral health services, it might be worthwhile to work with your consultant/carrier to find out the cost impact of behavioral health (per-contract cost). Once that cost is determined, your consultant/carrier can determine if virtual behavioral health programs are available for a similar or better cost. Possible savings do exist while providing a virtual program that can reach employees and their families from anywhere. For example, one employer’s current PCPM (per contract per month) cost of behavioral health care is $17. And after investigating their virtual behavior health options, they found a program that cost $11 per contract instead.

While EAPs and telemedicine are good starting points to address employees’ mental health needs, virtual behavioral health services are more comprehensive and worth evaluating to see if they’d be a good fit into your employee benefits package.

For more information, contact your Employee Benefits Consultant.


1 https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/pandemic-enters-year-2-mental-health-burden-becomes-clearer

2 https://arraybc.com/defining-behavioral-health

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This blog is intended to be a compilation of information and resources pulled from federal, state, and local agencies. This is not intended to be legal advice. For up to the minute information and guidance on COVID-19, please follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and your local health organizations.

National Insurance Services is not a law firm and no opinion, suggestion, or recommendation of the firm or its employees shall constitute legal advice. Readers are advised to consult with their own attorney for a determination of their legal rights, responsibilities and liabilities, including the interpretation of any statute or regulation, or its application to the readers’ business activities.

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Scott Fritz

Scott Fritz

Scott Fritz always has a willingness to help others, which has made him an ideal candidate for working in the public sector benefits arena throughout his career. He’s a team player and enjoys strategizing, problem solving, and finding effective cost-saving solutions for his clients. As an Employee Benefit Consultant with National Insurance Services, Scott is responsible for the overall assessment and management of an employer’s benefit plans. He is a licensed insurance agent and works with schools, cities, counties, and community mental health organizations in Michigan and North Carolina.