In response to the tidal wave of demand from employees and their families, large employers across the country have provided millions of people with mental health benefits, overcoming obstacles and challenges posed by federal and state regulations and the mental health profession itself. Today, big employers are calling on Congress to help them work in their workforces and address these issues by adopting common sense principles to improve the availability, affordability and quality of mental health services.
It has often been said that everything about COVID-19 “became political”. Lockdowns, school closures, travel restrictions, camouflage, social distancing, vaccine availability and requirements: All these policies at national, state and local levels have become the focus of our seemingly continuous struggle over how, to what extent and for how long. we should fight the pandemic.
However, there is one non-political aspect of COVID-19 that has a broad consensus and evidence: a brutal and relentless pandemic attack on our mental health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when the pandemic was in the early stages, depression and anxiety levels rose sharply, with 40 percent of adults in the United States experiencing mental health or substance use problems by mid-2020. . By the end of 2020, the emergency department had been visited by almost 190 million people due to mental disorders, suicide attempts, drug overdoses and child abuse and neglect.
Members of the ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC), one of America’s largest national companies and leaders in all industries, have responded deftly to the mental health crisis caused by COVID-19.
Companies have worked to adjust and improve benefits to meet the growing need for employees and their families to have greater access to affordable mental health and health services. They did not find these solutions “off the shelf” from existing vendors and often had to design programs themselves or work with new innovators and disruptors to develop and implement programs.
They have created new virtual programs to address the mental health needs of their workers and their families, and many have launched online mental health campaigns to raise awareness and promote well-being. Some offered self-guided resources and free mobile applications to build emotional resilience, improve sleep, and manage stress. Other employers have offered access to one-on-one counseling with clinicians and increased access by adding virtual daily group counseling sessions for parents, adult carers and people caring for family members with disabilities.
Bottom line: Our members have been creative and proactive in responding to the mental health needs of employees and their loved ones. However, they had to overcome many obstacles, hurdles and challenges. By addressing these challenges, Congress can help companies expand and improve the effectiveness of employers’ mental health benefits.
In particular, our members believe that Congress can and should now act to improve access to and quality of mental health services, expand mental health professions, and promote creative and proactive ways of providing mental health services. Here’s how:
- Improve access to and quality of mental health services. Mental health services are highly regulated at all levels. Congress should seek to modernize health care accounting rules to increase staff flexibility and improve access to mental and behavioral health. ERIC member companies believe there are several ways to achieve this: Congress can help by requiring transparency of providers in terms of the ability to admit new patients, enabling mental health providers to practice across countries to improve access to culturally competent care, and expand benefits of telehealth for all employees. improve access to mental health providers.
- Expand the mental health profession. The sharp rise in demand for mental health services has revealed a severe shortage of mental health professionals. The congress should motivate more professionals to enter the field of mental health, inter alia by increasing funding for education and tuition fees, which will help expand the range of mental health providers. Also useful: integration and support of interdisciplinary team mental health care to improve coordination between primary care physicians and other support such as group meetings and therapy sessions.
- Promote smart, creative and proactive ways to deliver mental health services. By giving patients more and better information and employers the flexibility to deliver mental health benefits, Congress can improve the situation for all. A federal government publication of meaningful information about the quality and safety of providers will help patients find the most effective treatment for themselves and their loved ones. And promoting the adoption of value-based mental health care models would encourage providers to manage patients’ mental health, rather than waiting for intercession when crises arise – resulting in more effective care and better outcomes.
- Be prepared for what will happen next. It will never be said that the COVID-19 pandemic has done our kindness to our society or economy. However, if the pandemic has brought any positives, it is certainly necessary to realize that it is now widely known that our mental health – as well as our physical health – needs to be monitored, addressed and treated. During the last two years, when we have struggled with the consequences of a mental health pandemic on our wives, partners, children and ourselves, we have turned to our employers for help and health benefit plans. They responded as quickly and efficiently as possible and expanded their benefits offerings with ideas such as telehealth and online opportunities, as well as paid mental health leave. At the same time, employers have encountered a number of problems and problems with mental health treatment – from a lack of experts to a ban on cross-border treatment to a lack of data on quality and effectiveness in the field of mental health and health.
In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month, Congress today should help employers be prepared for what’s next, by adopting common sense principles to improve access to, quality of, and affordability of mental health services. All Americans.
Annette Guarisco Fildes is President and CEO of The ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC), a national advocacy organization that exclusively represents large employers who provide healthcare, retirement, paid leave and other benefits to their nationwide workers.