COVID-19 Shines a Light on the Increasing Importance of Mental Health Benefits
By Scott Geyer, SVP, Client Services
Since the pandemic began more than a year ago, medical experts and researchers have tracked a troubling trend of deteriorating mental and emotional health among the population. Frontline healthcare workers and essential employees were among the first to exhibit signs of increased stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as they dealt with unimaginable care challenges and tragic patient outcomes stemming from COVID-19.
But experts also noted an uptick in individuals from all walks of life reporting increased feelings of stress and anxiety. Employers quickly recognized the need to provide care and support for their employees’ mental wellness in addition to their physical wellbeing. Self-funded health plans and commercial plans experienced a steady spike in mental health claims.
As the TPA for many of the country’s leading self-funded plans, we certainly saw this immediate increase in mental-health related claims and we began to hear from our client partners, seeking counsel on innovative approaches to broadening the scope of their mental health benefits plans. Our organizational mission to treat members with dignity and respect provides the ideal platform to fill this long stigmatized and under-utilized sector of health benefits with a menu of solutions using our vast array of resources, products and services.
What’s behind the surge in mental health claims?
Several research studies by respected organizations demonstrate the accelerator effect of the pandemic on the demand for mental health benefits:
Virtual mental health care may be just what the doctor ordered.
- The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found the share of U.S. adults who said worry and stress related to the coronavirus was having a negative impact on their mental health ranged from a high of 53 percent in July 2020 to 47 percent in March 2021.
- KFF data show younger adults and women, including mothers with children under 18 years old in their households, are among the most likely to report that stress and worry related to coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health.
- According to KFF, nearly half of Black adults, White adults, and about four in ten Latino adults say the coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health, including three in ten Black adults, and one-fourth of White and Latino adults.
- Pew Research Center, in an article published March 21, 2021, reported that about one-fifth of U.S. adults are experiencing high levels of psychological distress, including nearly three-in-ten (28 percent) among those who say the outbreak has changed their lives in “a major way.”
- Not only are U.S. adults worried about the impact of COVID-19 on their physical health they are also experiencing high levels of distress about the virus’ impact on their personal financial situation (34 percent).
- Psychological distress is especially common among adults ages 18 to 29 (32 percent), those with lower family incomes (31 percent), and those who have a disability or health condition that keeps them from participating fully in work, school, housework or other activities (36 percent).
- The Association of Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) reported the devastating impact that social isolation and loneliness has on personal wellbeing, noting that the percentage of American adults who say they are lonely has doubled from 20 to 40 percent since the 1980s, and nearly one-third of Americans live alone. Social isolation and loneliness, exacerbated by the pandemic, can harm a person’s immune system, sleeping patterns, stress levels, and cognitive abilities.
Tele-health, also known as virtual health, has taken center stage as a preferred method of providing diagnostic care and treatment during the pandemic. A trend that started several years ago, virtual health has rocketed to prominence with the fears and restrictions accompanying the pandemic. For many of our health plan clients, our strategic partnership with TeladocÔ Health has been the ideal solution to their members’ increasing demand for mental health services.
According to a white paper published by Teladoc Health, COVID-19 has had a profound effect on the mental health of people around the world. Anxiety about the possibility of getting sick, the stress of job loss, increased substance abuse and feelings of loneliness are just some of the ways that the pandemic has manifested in mental health challenges. A 2020 United Nations policy brief, cited in the white paper, concludes that the pandemic presents “the seeds of a major mental health crisis.”
The Teladoc Health white paper lists several barriers to in-office mental health care: time constraints, concerns about COVID-19, limited appointment availability, and a sense of shame about needing mental health care. The virtual delivery of care addresses or removes most of these barriers. And left untreated, mental health disorders contribute to a host of medical conditions.
Thanks to our partnership with Teladoc Health, we are able to provide our members virtual access to board-certified psychiatrists and licensed psychologists/therapists by phone or video. This provides peace-of-mid access to mental health experts while eliminating many of the barriers associated with in-office care. Virtual mental health care also offers individuals an opportunity to build relationships with the providers of their choice and receive ongoing mental health support for a wide range of conditions, when and where they feel most comfortable. Common mental health issues that can be addressed by virtual care include:
We are proud of our ability to support our members’ mental health needs.
- Panic disorder
- Family/marriage issues
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Work pressures
If you’d like to learn more about HealthSmart’s timely, effective mental health solutions, visit https://healthsmart.com/How-We-Help/Care-Management/Telemedicine-Services
or email us at email@example.com
. Current clients, please connect with your Client Service Executive for assistance.
Scott Geyer is Senior Vice President of Client Services for HealthSmart. Scott has overall responsibility for HealthSmart client relationships and has been serving our customers for more than 24 years.
Mental Health Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Update, www.kff.org
, April 14, 2021.
Many Americans continue to experience mental health difficulties as pandemic enters second year, Facttank News in the Numbers, www.pewresearch.org
, March 16, 2021.
Social Determinants of Health: Social Isolation & Loneliness, AHIP, December 2019.
Mental health and COVID-19: Leveraging virtual care to meet increased demand, Teladoc Health, 2020.