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Mental Health Care Requires Shift in Employee Benefits

Mental Health Care is front and center post-Pandemic!  The chaos, isolation, and financial stress of the Covid-19 pandemic has elevated mental health care as an employee benefit.  Since the Pandemic took hold in 2020, anxiety and depression have skyrocketed.  Currently, 19% (47.1 million) Americans have a mental health condition, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report, cited recently in BenefitsPro.  The proliferation of mental healthcare concerns during the pandemic has caused a ripple effect in the workplace.  So, how can employers respond?

Is relying on existing health insurance benefits to fill growing mental health needs the answer? Or, is it necessary to forge a new path to address mental healthcare concerns?  Do employers need to seek innovative solutions to deliver the appropriate assistance some of their employees desperately need?  For starters, it is important to start the conversation with employees.  Do they feel their current benefit packages are adequate to meet the new mental healthcare needs?  Are employees receiving proper support?  Or do they need additional help to manage any mental health concerns they or their family may be dealing with?

BenefitsPro, via author Tiffany Stiller, vice president of Carrier Relations at BenefitMall (which offers “next-generation” employee benefits solutions), suggests the following for employers seeking mental health support for their employees and dependents:

  • Under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equality Act (MHPAEA), mental health or substance use benefits must be equivalent to covered medical or surgical benefits.  The question employers should be asking is – Are existing benefits sufficient, or do benefits need to be supplemented?
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) provide employees an outlet to access counseling for a variety of mental health concerns, including grief, family issues, psychological disorders, and others.  Employers have the option to either offer EAPs as a standalone benefit, or as an add-on to another benefit, such as life insurance.
  • Telehealth appointments are another way for employees and their dependents to interact with providers and receive mental health support.  The pandemic has given rise to increasing virtual interactions, including seeking medical attention and mental health support via telehealth.  This benefit is available within many health plans, or it can be offered a standalone benefit.
  • Apps are another way employers can deliver support for employees’ mental health and wellbeing.  Ms. Stiller cited an app called AbleTo, a virtual behavioral healthcare portal, and Mindstrong, which enables employees to access virtual therapy via their mobile devices.
  • Financial wellness programs can also help address employees’ stress and support their mental health.  By giving them the knowledge and tools they need to better manage their money on a day-to-day basis, and helping them discover ways to save for the future, and/or a rainy day, financial wellness programs can ease some of the mental load employees are carrying.

The need for employers to offer benefits that make mental healthcare support easily accessible to employees and their dependents is only likely to grow the longer the pandemic and its lingering impacts persist.  Employers should consider offering these benefits to help employees achieve optimal mental health and wellbeing so they can be happy, healthy, and productive – both personally and professionally.  Employers may not be able to change an employee’s specific situation, but tuning in and listening to their needs and addressing them when the need surfaces can make a world of difference.

Steff Chalk

Steff Chalk

Managing Editor at 401kTV
Steff C. Chalk is Executive Director of The Retirement Advisor University, a collaboration with UCLA Anderson School of Management Executive Education. Steff also serves as Executive Director of The Plan Sponsor University and is current faculty of The Retirement Adviser University.
Steff Chalk

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