Employers concerned about covering workers' mental health needs, survey finds

Employers concerned about covering workers’ mental health needs, survey finds

Nearly three years after the covid-19 pandemic upended workplaces, mental health coverage remains a priority for employers, according to an annual employer survey by the KFF.

Almost half of large employers surveyed – those with at least 200 workers – said a growing share of their workers were using mental health services. Yet nearly a third of this group said their health plan network does not have enough behavioral health care providers to ensure employees have timely access to the care they need.

As millions of employees were thrown out of shuttered office buildings to work from home or risked infection while working on the front lines, mental health issues soared. Today, even as many workplaces have returned to some semblance of “normal,” some workers are still grappling with the changes of the pandemic years and seeking mental health services.

Although 4 in 5 employers reported having enough primary care providers in their health plan network, only 44% of all employers reported having enough behavioral health care providers, according to the KFF survey.

“That’s the number that, to me, shows how bad access to mental health care providers is,” said Matthew Rae, associate director of the healthcare market program at KFF. “This, in conjunction with the huge increase in demand for mental health services.”

KFF’s 2022 survey of employer health benefits, released on October 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 healthcare coverage were remarkably similar to last year’s. Annual premiums for family coverage average $22,463 this year, compared to $22,221 last year. On average, workers are paying $6,106 this year for those bonuses, while employers are paying the rest of the tab.

For individual coverage, workers pay $1,327 out of pocket for their premiums, which average $7,911 in total. Employers pay the remaining part.

The relative stability of bonuses contrasts with headline inflation, which has been 8% so far in 2022, and workers’ wages, which have risen 6.7%, according to KFF’s calculation – perhaps, according to the report, because the annual bonuses have been finalized. in the fall of 2021, before the price increases are apparent.

This trend may not continue.

“Employers are already concerned about what they pay for health premiums, but this could 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 accompanying the report. . “Given the tight labor market and rising wages, it will be difficult for employers to pass the costs onto workers when costs rise.”

Among large employers, 14% said more employees were using services to address substance use in 2022, although around half said they were unsure if there had been an increase, the survey found. .

Among all surveyed employers with 50 or more workers, 17% said they had also seen an increase in the number of workers requesting leave for mental health issues under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. This law allows certain employees of companies with 50 employees or more to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year without risking losing their job.

Although the use of telemedicine services has declined somewhat since the first pandemic-related lockdowns, 90% of employers surveyed said they offer a plan that covers telemedicine services. More than half of large employers said telemedicine would be “very important” in enabling them to provide their workers with access to behavioral health services in the future. By contrast, only around a third of these employers said the same was true for access to primary care, while 24% said telemedicine would be “very important” to enable them to access specialist care. .

Twenty-seven percent of large employers said they added mental health care providers to their plan network this year, either in person or via telemedicine.

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

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and polls, KHN is one of the three main operating programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed non-profit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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