Pension & Benefits News Employers taking action to improve access to behavioral health care services
Monday, June 17, 2019

Employers taking action to improve access to behavioral health care services

By Pension and Benefits Editorial Staff

Job-related stress and depression/anxiety are the top workforce behavioral health (BH) concerns for employers, according to recent research from Mercer. The 10-Minute Survey on Behavioral Health Care 2019 included responses from 523 employers, and found that more than half the respondents cited each of these issues—and their impact on medical plan cost and productivity—as a concern for their organizations, and about a fourth cited alcohol and opioid use disorders. At the same time, almost two-thirds of survey respondents said that adequate access to outpatient behavioral health care is lacking in some, or all, of their locations. Many employers noted that they are not willing to wait for the situation to improve, but are taking action themselves to increase employee access to quality behavioral health services.

The largest employers were the most likely to report serious concerns over behavioral health conditions in the workforce. Among respondents with 5,000 or more employees, 69 percent said that workforce depression/anxiety was a concern in their organization, compared to just 28 percent of employers with fewer than 500 employees. These smaller employers rated job-related stress and financial stress as the top two risk factors associated with BH conditions in their workforces.

The shortage of behavioral health care providers, already well-documented, affects the majority of employer health plans. For about three-quarters of survey respondents with 5,000 or more employees, adequate access is a concern at some or all locations (20 percent said at all locations), according to Mercer. Among small employers, with fewer locations to manage, the survey found that 43 percent said access is a concern.

Spurred by a growing body of research demonstrating the impact of behavioral health on physical health and productivity, employers are taking action to help close the access gap themselves. Given that most employers already have an employee assistance program (EAP) in place, many have chosen to start there. Forty-eight percent have enhanced the services offered by the EAP within the last two years, or changed EAP vendors to provide a more robust offering. Expanded EAP offerings include onsite counseling services, online programs using Cognitive Behavioral Theory to address anxiety, depression, sleep and pain.

In addition, 37 percent have recently implemented a tele-therapy program through the medical offering’s telemedicine vendor. Some employers, most often the larger ones (26 percent of those with 5,000 or more employees), have conducted network analyses focused on behavioral health care access, including for more complex treatments, such as residential or inpatient settings. Only 7 percent of employers have contracted with a third-party vendor to supplement existing providers and broaden access options.


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