There’s no doubt the coronavirus pandemic has altered American life as we know it, and there is no telling when we will transition to a more “normal” routine or what that will look like when we do. The impacts of the virus on physical health are well-known (if not yet completely understood) and we know the toll on mental health increases daily.
Since April, U.S. citizens have been reporting increases in anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Many employers recognize the increased need to support their employees during this time of physical and mental health crisis, and with open enrollment upon us, you might be looking for health plans that incorporate more mental health options.
Answering the following questions will help you develop a successful strategy for choosing mental health benefits for 2021.
What is trending now?
Open enrollment for 2021 is seeing a strong resurgence of interest in Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that include behavioral health counseling. Telehealth options and virtual healthcare applications are also hot commodities. Add to that the myriad of employee well-being programs that include stress-relieving exercises, mindfulness journaling or financial fitness tutorials and you have seemingly endless new options.
With so many exciting trends it can be appealing to jump at the most popular new thing. Mental health benefits, however, just like all employee benefits, work best when they are based on the specific needs of your organization. Aligning your benefits with the concerns of your employee population and company goals helps increase employee satisfaction with your benefits and improves utilization.
As you consider the trending options, think about how they might fit into your company culture and employee health goals.
What are your current benefit offerings for behavioral/mental health?
Before you start analyzing if new trends will work for your company, it makes sense to understand how your current benefits are working.
Create a matrix to document all currently available mental health offerings as well as the features and limitations. For example, your health plan likely includes mental health and substance use treatment coverage—but does it also include a strong telehealth option? Do you currently use an EAP? Does it include a number of free counseling sessions? Does it cover family members?
You want to understand the depth and breadth of current offerings to find any potential holes in coverage as well as duplication of efforts among vendors. Sometimes duplication is potentially wasteful spending, but sometimes it can create important redundancies or a staged approach to care.
System integration is all the rage—everybody wants business systems that are 3-in-1, but sometimes that concept doesn’t meet your needs. For example, integration with your healthcare plan might mean a reduction or elimination of co-pays for some mental health services. If those services aren’t desirable to employees, however, it really doesn’t matter if they are included and “free” to employees. Employees won’t use them, and you will likely pay a higher premium for what amounts to unused services.
What are employee engagement levels with your current offerings?
To avoid adding a bunch of exciting new benefits that go unused, you need to know how employees are using the current services available to them. Which services are more popular and why? What is their appeal? If offerings are not being used, you also need to know why. Are the employees unaware of the current offerings? Is there an issue with access to care? Behavioral healthcare can be difficult to find in some locations with long wait periods.
What is your workplace culture around mental health? Discussing mental health at work is becoming less taboo, but people are still uncomfortable bringing it up. Attitude about mental healthcare makes a dramatic difference in utilization of benefits. If your culture unknowingly lends credence to the stigma associated with mental illness, your programs are unlikely to be successful.
If you don’t currently have a supportive environment, find someone among senior leadership to champion your cause. Make it easier on employees to seek help not only by giving them resources, but also by letting them know it is OK to need help.
Which offerings would help you achieve your goals?
It’s noble to want to aid people in need of assistance, but you are still running a business and have your eye on the bottom line. With employer healthcare costs rising year over year it makes sense to look for budget-friendly options, but it can feel like a tug of war finding a balance between keeping costs under control and investing in employee health and well-being.
Much as we might like to crunch numbers on employee well-being, it is virtually impossible to calculate the true return on investment (ROI) of encouraging employees to take good care of their health. There is, however, evidence to support the idea that a proactively healthy workforce is less likely to suffer from preventable health conditions—stress-induced headaches, insomnia, poor diet, backpain, etc.—which are known to contribute to serious (and costly) health concerns.
Bottom line, we know that helping employees stay healthy is valuable to employers—you just need to make sure the costs are aligned with your company goals.
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