Mental health matters: Three reasons behavioral health should be on your radar

Thanks to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which was passed in 2008, all employer benefit plans include behavioral health coverage. And it’s included on all plans offered on the health care marketplace.

But the discussion about behavioral health coverage is far from over.

You can expect to hear a lot more about it in the months and years ahead, with a growing emphasis on access to care. Here’s why:


Reason #1: It’s linked to population health.

The current emphasis on population health has health care providers looking for ways to achieve better patient outcomes and rein in costs. It turns out that behavioral health may be a key factor.

Why? Behavioral health patients have higher-than-average rates of ER visits, hospitalizations and readmissions, according to a recent article in Health Leaders Media.

Better coordination between hospitals and community-based care could make a difference. That’s why smart health care organizations and employers groups are emphasizing behavioral health more than in the past.

What’s next? The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended that primary care providers screen patients for mental health concerns like sleep patterns, depression and anxiety in the same way they screen for high blood pressure and chronic disease symptoms.


Reason #2: The numbers support it.

Shocking events like Robin Williams’ apparent suicide and school shootings are raising awareness of behavioral health nationally, and raising questions about the personal and financial impact.

Nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults have some form of mental disorder, and nearly nine percent have a substance abuse disorder, according to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey. Of course, there’s also a lot of overlap, with individuals having both a mental illness and substance abuse issues.

And the World Health Organization has predicted that depression could become the second leading cause of death and disability by 2020. (It’s currently fourth).

The financial impact is startling: A Harvard Health newsletter reported that the indirect costs of mental health disorders — particularly lost productivity — exceed companies’ spending on direct costs, such as health insurance contributions and pharmacy expenses.

Case in point: An estimated $22.8 billion was spent on depression treatment in 2009, and lost productivity cost an additional estimated $23 billion in 2011, according to an independent body appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services.


Reason #3: Politicians are getting involved.

There’s bipartisan support for behavioral health care improvement in Washington D.C. In September, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act was passed in the House of Representatives by an overwhelming vote of 422-2. It’s headed to the Senate next.

The bill was designed to increase mental health support for the more than 11 million Americans with severe schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. This would include providing psychiatric bed space so people can receive evidence-based care and appointing a federal assistant secretary to oversee mental health issues, which could lead to better coordination and funding.

On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has pledged to hold a White House conference on mental health during her first year in office if she’s elected. Her goal is to fully integrate mental health services into the nation’s health-care system.


What does all of this mean for employers? Hopefully it’s a step in the right direction. Studies cited by Harvard suggest that money spent on mental health care may represent an investment that will pay off in healthier employees and improved financial results.

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