Employers care about mental health, but not enough

Nearly three years after the Covid-19 pandemic forever changed the workplace, mental health coverage remains a top priority for employers, according to KFF’s annual survey.

About half of the large employers surveyed, with at least 200 employees, reported that an increasing proportion of their employees use mental health services. However, about a third of that group said their health plan’s network doesn’t have enough providers in this area for employees to get the timely access they need.

As millions of employees have traded closed offices for homes, or risked infection by working on the front lines of the fight against Covid, mental health issues have skyrocketed.

Now, while many workplaces have returned to a semblance of “normal,” some workers are still dealing with the transition of the pandemic year and seeking mental health services.

While 4 in 5 employers report having enough primary care providers in their health plans, only 44% say they have enough behavioral health providers, according to the KFF survey.

“These are the numbers that show me how poor access to mental health care providers is,” says Matthew Ray, associate program director for health care markets at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). “This, coupled with an increase in demand for mental health services.”

The 2022 KFF Employer Health Benefits Survey, released Oct. 27, analyzed responses from a random sample of 2,188 employers of various sizes.

Overall, the survey found this year’s premiums for health care coverage were remarkably similar to last year’s.

Annual premiums for family coverage are $22,463, on average, this year, compared to $22,221 last year. This year workers are paying about $6,106 for these premiums, while employers are footing the rest of the bill.

For individual coverage, workers are paying $1,327 out-of-pocket for their premiums, for a total of $7,911. Employers pay the rest.

The relative stability of premiums contrasts with general inflation, which has reached 8% so far in 2022, and workers’ wages, which according to KFF calculations have increased by 6.7%; That’s likely, the report suggested, because annual premiums were finalized by the fall of 2021, before price increases became apparent.

That trend may not continue.

“Employers are already worried about what they will pay for health premiums, but this may be the calm before the storm, as recent inflation suggests bigger increases are imminent,” said Drew Altman, president and CEO of KFF, in a press release.

“Given the tight labor market and rising wages, it will be difficult for employers to afford workers when costs rise,” he added.

Among large employers, 14% said that by 2022, more employees are using addiction treatment services, according to the survey.

Among all surveyed employers with 50 or more employees, 17% said they also increased the number of employees who requested mental health leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. This Act allows certain employees of companies with 50 or more employees Take 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year without risking losing their job.

Although the use of telemedicine services has declined slightly since the first lockdown due to the pandemic, 90% of employers surveyed reported that they offer a plan that covers them.

More than half of large employers say telemedicine is “very important” to enabling their employees to provide access to mental health services in the future. However, only a third said this route was essential for primary care, and 24% for specialist consultation.

27% of large employers reported adding mental health care providers to their plans this year, either in person or via telemedicine.

In addition to covering behavioral and mental health care services, 81% of large organizations said they have an employee support program for mental health services, while 44% said they offer mental health self-care apps to employees.

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