More employers are offering mental health services, but gaps remain

Steven Loeb · October 28, 2022 · Short URL:

While there's a large reliance on telehealth, 30% still there aren't enough providers

Last month, Karen S. Lynch, president and CEO of CVS Health, wrote in an op-ed that employers needed to take a greater role in their employees' mental health by including being transparent and open about their own mental health issues, to make their employees more comfortable also doing so, to increase access to mental health care, and to encourage peer support so that employees can learn on each other for help. 

Now, a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that large firms are least doing that last part, as 27% of large employers added mental health providers, either in physical offices or virtually through telehealth, to their plan’s networks to expand access this year.

The survey, which was filled out by 2,188 public and private firms with three or more employees between February and July of 2022, found that companies are providing these services because they saw the need among their employees: 48% of firms said they were was an increase in their workers using mental health care services following the COVID-19 pandemic, while 29% said more workers were asking for family leave due to mental health issues. 

Meanwhile, 14% said that they saw an increase in the share of workers using substance use services, while 43% said that they are at least somewhat concerned about the growth of substance-use conditions among their workers.

Telemedicine was a major boon for these employers looking to provide care for their employees, as more than half expect telemedicine to be “very important” in providing behavioral health services, compared to 35% say it will be “very important” in providing primary care, and 24% who say the same for specialty care (24%).

That is likely because telehealth has remained a popular tool for mental health visits, even as the pandemic has waned: while overall telehealth visits have come down quite a bit from their peak, when they represented 13% of all outpatient visits between March and August of 2020, the same cannot be said of mental health; telehealth represented 40% of mental health and substance use outpatient visits, and still represent 36% of these outpatient visits.

As such, almost all large firms, 96% of them, now cover some form of telemedicine services: 46% providing it directly through their health plan, 32% providing it through a specialized telemedicine provider, and 20% providing both.

However, telemedicine doesn't solve all issues; even with those additions, 30% of large employers say their networks do not have enough behavioral health providers to ensure their workers have timely access to care. 

Access to mental health services is still a major issue: in 2020, 1 in 15 U.S adults experienced both a substance use disorder and mental illness, and over 12 million had serious thoughts of suicide; yet 17.7 million experienced delays or cancellations in appointments, 7.3 million experienced delays in getting prescriptions, and 4.9 million were unable to access needed care at all. 

“Many large employers are struggling to add enough mental health and substance use providers to meet their workers’ growing needs,” Gary Claxton, a KFF senior vice president and director of the Health Care Marketplace Project, said in a statement.

"Most consider telemedicine to be an important part of the solution."

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