A conversation on behavioral health issues and benefits



With issues of behavioral health at the forefront of many discussions in the healthcare and benefits industry, we at Collective Health decided it was time to enter the conversation. Last week we held a webinar on behavioral health benefits that was a conversation between Dr. Rajaie Batniji, our Co-founder and Chief Health Officer, and Kirk McConnell (Health Programs and Products).

Dr. Batniji is also a physician and a political economist who spent one year with the World Health Organization in Geneva, working on issues of mental health and substance abuse. During the webinar, Dr. Batniji discussed some of the conditions that fall under the umbrella of behavioral health, the impact of behavioral health on businesses and the ways employers can address these conditions through their benefits and programs.

How big is the issue of behavioral health?

60 percent of webinar attendees reported that their benefits team spends more time thinking about behavioral health today compared to two years ago. This is right on trend with what we have seen in the industry at large and underscores the need to have more discussions regarding issues of behavioral health. In fact, a study conducted by the World Health Organization (just published yesterday) estimates that “almost 10% of the world’s population, or 740 million people, is affected by common mental problems and a collective failure to tackle depression and anxiety costs the global economy $1 trillion each year.”

An estimated 217 million workdays are lost each year due to productivity decline related to mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

Why should employers take notice?

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act of 2008 put employers at the forefront of providing coverage for behavioral health. Before then, access to care for these issues was restricted by lack of coverage, reduced coverage and higher cost sharing. Afterwards, it was mandated that your behavioral health and medical health care plan have parity in terms of both cost sharing and access. The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, introduced in the Senate in 2016, looks to provide similar policy requirements for all plans whether they are individual, group or government plans. But besides the legal requirement for behavioral and medical health care parity, there is also a business case to be made for supporting those in your population with behavioral health needs.

How does behavioral health impact businesses?

An estimated 217 million workdays are lost each year due to productivity decline related to mental illness and substance abuse disorders. From a global perspective, if health authorities fail to increase access to behavioral health care, “12 billion working days (the equivalent of 50 million years of work) will be lost to depression and anxiety every year.” Those numbers are staggering, but the good news is that employers can have a meaningful impact by making sure their people are supported in seeking the care they need. Some of the options for employers and HR/Benefits leaders to better support their people with behavioral health issues include:

  • evaluating and integrating existing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
  • examining new, innovative product solutions that target specific behavioral health needs
  • surveying their people and claims data to see what is working and what isn’t

How can employers’ behavioral health strategy be improved?

50 percent of webinar attendees reported feeling only “somewhat satisfied” with their EAPs, which is understandable. In a 2013 study, 92 percent of employers offered an EAP but only three percent of their employees took advantage of those services each year. Integrating these programs and new, innovative product solutions with your health plan can give HR/Benefits teams the holistic picture they need to measure the efficacy of these strategies. Integration can also increase visibility of existing programs, encouraging more people to use them. Dr. Batniji commented that, in his opinion, there has never been a greater opportunity for employers to put together an integrated approach to behavioral health benefits.

What is next?

In case you missed the webinar, you can watch it on demand. You can also download our Behavioral Health Benefits Kit for a full guide on to how to plan your behavioral health strategy. The kit includes worksheets for your team to guide them through the steps necessary to evaluating, creating and communicating your strategy as well as a spotlight on the range of new and innovative behavioral health programs available. Additionally, we have several resources on our Insights page that cover some of the challenges and solutions in creating a behavioral health strategy.

Download the kit

Deliver a better healthcare experience for your people and your team.

Take a self-guided tour