September 15, 2023
As originally published in ALM | BenefitsPro September 2023
In today’s fast-paced and demanding work environment, employee wellbeing has become a key focus for companies, and brokers play a crucial role in advocating and facilitating those mental health benefits. However, despite the increasing emphasis on mental health in the workplace, a significant number of employees are still unaware of the benefits available to them. A study completed in 2022 found just 1% of health insurance brokers believed their clients had a strong understanding of how mental health is handled in the workplace.
The pandemic highlighted the significance of mental health coverage in insurance plans, leading to a surge in demand for benefits previously overlooked by employees. Since the pandemic began, the rate of depression has tripled, impacting 1 in 3 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result, the majority of employers have increased their investment in mental health resources. In the current competitive talent landscape, offering comprehensive mental health benefits can help companies attract and retain top talent.
Optimizing mental health benefits for your employer clients
Health savings accounts
Brokers play an essential role in helping clients get the most out of their mental health benefits. For example, it’s important to remind clients that health savings accounts (HSAs) can be used to cover various mental health-related expenses, such as therapy, psychiatric care, substance abuse treatments, and prescription drugs. Employers can also encourage employee participation in HSAs by making contributions of their own.
Employee assistance programs
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are voluntary benefits programs aimed at providing support to employees dealing with personal challenges that impact their job performance, health and mental wellbeing. These services are usually provided by third parties and are typically available at no additional cost to employees. Unfortunately, many people do not know this tool is included in their plans, despite 98% of mid to large companies in the U.S. offering EAPs. There are also several common misconceptions surrounding EAPs; for example, that they are only available for crisis situations. Employers should educate their employees about EAPs, emphasizing their availability for non-crisis situations to promote a positive work-life balance. Another common misconception is that seeking help from these programs might result in the shared information being used against the employee in the future, or that it could get back to their employer. However, that is not the case,as it is against federal law for the EAP to disclose information shared by an employee with the employer. Additionally, it is important for brokers to talk to their clients about how they are explaining EAPs to their employees.
Telehealth visits gained popularity during the pandemic and have proven to be effective in providing mental health support. One of the key advantages of telehealth is its convenience. Through virtual consultations, employees can access mental health support from anywhere and easily schedule appointments that fit into their busy schedules. Telehealth services are also cost-effective. By reducing the need for in-person visits, telehealth can help lower overall health care costs for employers. For employees, it may also mean reduced out-of-pocket costs, making mental health support more accessible and affordable. Adding telehealth services to comprehensive mental health benefits not only improves access to care, but also demonstrates an employer’s commitment to the wellbeing of their employees, fostering a healthier and more productive environment.
Equal protections for mental and physical health
Brokers can also help clients by ensuring they understand the Paul Wellstone and Pete Comenicic Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equality Act, commonly known as the Parity Law. The Parity Law requires that mental health and substance use disorder benefits receive equal protection as medical and surgical benefits. This includes similar financial requirements and treatment limitations like deductibles, copayments, and treatment time limits. The Affordable Care Act requires that parity regulations apply to the majority of employer-sponsored plans, regardless of whether the employer buys commercial insurance or self-funds their health benefits directly.
Employers may be hesitant to boost mental health investments; however, neglecting employee’s psychological well-being often comes at a higher cost. According to a Gallup study, nearly 20% of U.S. workers rate their mental health as “fair or poor” — and these individuals are four times more likely to miss work. Employees with untreated anxiety and depression have an average of 12 unplanned absences per year due to mental health, costing $47.6 billion in lost productivity to the U.S. workforce. Enhanced mental health support can result in decreased sick leave and a corresponding boost in productivity. Brokers play a crucial role in motivating employers to invest in these mental health benefits. Ultimately, prioritizing mental health will not only benefit employees but also positively impact the overall success of the organization.
Bob Love joined BenefitMall in 2018 as president, bringing more than 30 years of experience leading sales and operations teams in all size market segments at the national level.