Director, Partnership for Workplace Mental Health
Organizations like the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health and Families for Depression Awareness have long advocated for employers to address mental health in the workplace, citing both visible (e.g., disability payments) and hidden (e.g., lost productivity) costs of depression among employees. As we have previously discussed on this blog, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that mental health care be included in health care coverage. As the ACA carries an affirmative obligation for certain employers (50 or more employees) to provide health insurance, employers now have the opportunity to impact employees’ mental health broadly through proactive wellness programs and individually through their employee assistance plans and ultimately their health insurance programs.
In this post, Clare Miller explains the essential role of employers in advancing mental health and—even apart from the ACA—the critical reasons for employers to address the mental health needs of their employees.
Employers are an important constituency to engage in advancing mental health in the United States given their power in affecting how much and what kind of care employees and dependents actually receive. Indeed, about 157 million Americans receive coverage through employer-sponsored health insurance.
Employers are getting more involved in healthcare because many realize that employees are their most important asset—their human capital. They’re also focused on healthcare because it is such an enormous expense, as evidenced by the oft-quoted fact that General Motors spends more on healthcare than on steel.
Many employers realize that they can use their purchasing dollars to leverage the healthcare system to demand better quality. And demanding it they are; employers are pushing strategies such as value-based purchasing and outcomes-based contracting. They are aligning incentives to produce better outcomes, as in the case of value-based benefit designs, where copayments might be lowered or eliminated to encourage people to access care and services to manage chronic illnesses.
One of the first examples of this approach was focused on diabetes management. A large employer eliminated the copayments associated with diabetes medication after realizing that high cost-sharing was leading workers to forgo medication, which led to increased hospitalization costs. In response, the employer aligned incentives to be sure that workers could afford the treatment to appropriately manage their condition. Importantly, they married this strategy with others, such as patient education about diabetes management.