Employers Concerned About Covering Workers’ Mental Health Needs, Survey

In the workplace, mental health coverage remains a priority for employers nearly three years after the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an annual employer survey fielded by KFF.

About half of the large employers surveyed — those with at least 200 employees — reported that a growing portion of their employees were using mental health services. Yet nearly a third of that group said their health plan’s network does not have enough behavioral health care providers for employees to get timely access to the care they need.

As millions of employees were sent away from shuttered office buildings to work from home or risk infection while working on the front lines, mental health problems increased. Now, even as many workplaces have returned to “normal,” some workers are still struggling with the transition of the pandemic year and seeking mental health services.

While 4 in 5 employers report that they have enough primary care providers in their health plan networks, according to the KFF survey, only 44% of all employers report that they have enough behavioral health providers.

“That’s the number that shows to me how bad access to mental health care providers is,” said Matthew Ray, KFF’s associate director of health care market programs. “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 with at least three employees.

Overall, the survey found that 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. On average, workers are paying $6,106 for these premiums this year, while employers are picking up the rest of the tab.

For single 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 stands in contrast to overall inflation, which has been 8% so far in 2022, and workers’ wages, which KFF estimates have risen by 6.7% — likely, the report suggests, as annual premiums are finalized in the fall of 2021, with price increases evident. before being

That trend may not continue.

“Employers are already concerned about what they pay for health premiums, but this may be the calm before the storm, as recent inflation suggests that larger increases are imminent,” Drew Altman, KFF president and CEO, said in a news release accompanying the report. “Given the tight labor market and rising wages, it will be difficult for employers to shift costs onto workers when costs rise.”

Among large employers, 14% said more employees are using services for substance use treatment in 2022, although about half said they don’t know if the increase has occurred, according to the survey.

Among all surveyed employers with 50 or more employees, 17% said they also increased the number of employees who requested leave for mental health conditions under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. The law allows certain employees at companies with 50 or more employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually without risking losing their jobs.

Although the use of telemedicine services has eased somewhat since the initial pandemic lockdown, 90% of employers surveyed reported that they offered a plan that covered telemedicine services. More than half of large employers report that telemedicine will be “very important” to enabling their employees to provide access to behavioral health services in the future. In contrast, only a third of these employers said the same was true of providing access to primary care, while 24% said telemedicine would be “very important” to enabling them to provide access to specialty care.

27 percent of large employers reported that they added mental health care providers to their plan networks this year, either in person or through telemedicine.

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

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