Concerns about mental and behavioral health are still on the rise three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, 90% of U.S. adults believe that the country is still facing a mental health crisis, according to a recent KFF/CNN survey. The pandemic also exacerbated the need for accessible care and resources, especially for individuals who faced increased barriers to behavioral health support during a critical time of need. Plan sponsors that know how to leverage virtual behavioral health services are able to expand treatment to the 53 million Americans suffering from behavioral health issues and help save costs while doing so.
Improved access to behavioral health services
According to an MDLIVE research, 57% of respondents said they were open to using telehealth for behavioral health services, but only 25% have actually done so.1 This could be due to a number of factors, including the possibility that members aren’t aware of the virtual behavioral health services available to them. According to research done by Accenture, 38% of individuals diagnosed with a behavioral health condition were not using a virtual channel for treatment in the last three years. Moreover, only 23% of workers say their employer has introduced new mental and behavioral health services during the pandemic, according to a Harris Poll survey.
Offering such benefits helps address health equity concerns and reduces the number of members who go without care because they don’t have convenient access to a behavioral health care professional. Moreover, plan sponsors that make it more intuitive for members to navigate the path to the right care in a timelier manner have a competitive advantage. On average, behavioral health appointments are made available within 5–7 days, which is far less than the average 32 days for in-person appointments, according to a Merritt Hawkins survey.
In addition, plan sponsors that offer virtual behavioral health services as part of their benefits have an opportunity to serve individuals that may be unable to physically access care due to chronic conditions, disabilities or increased distance from in-person providers. MDLIVE, a 24/7 virtual care delivery platform, has a nationwide provider network of more than 1,400 board-certified psychiatrists and licensed therapists available in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
These kinds of benefits also help members overcome the stigma many attach to behavioral health by removing barriers associated with a brick-and-mortar practice and allowing members to participate in behavioral health services from a self-identified safe space.
And, quicker access to behavioral health care allows for earlier detection of issues before they advance into serious conditions that require increased treatment and greater spending.
Virtual behavioral health helps reduce health care costs
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, untreated behavioral health conditions contribute to inefficient care of physical ailments, costing health plans and employers billions of dollars annually. Depression alone is responsible for $44 billion in lost productivity.
Providing accessible behavioral health treatment sooner to individuals who are also diagnosed with chronic health conditions offers significant potential for cost savings. Patients with chronic medical conditions who don’t get the behavioral health support they need when they need it are more likely to experience exacerbated physical and mental symptoms, resulting in poor overall health outcomes and increased medical expenditures.
An Accenture analysis further supports this claim and shows that even a 1% increase in treatment for behavioral health disorders in the U.S. could yield as much as $2.4 billion in medical cost savings annually, at least some of which can be attributed to the fact that individuals with chronic medical conditions often also struggle with their mental health.
Additionally, a telehealth appointment is $120 less expensive than an in-office Behavioral Health specialist visit.2 An MDLIVE study confirms this, with 46% of respondents stating that telehealth helped reduce their health expenses.3
Virtual care is here to stay
There has been an increase in interest and adoption of virtual health care solutions in recent years and while telehealth options existed before the pandemic, some plan sponsors still aren’t effectively communicating access to this type of care as part of their behavioral health benefit offerings.
However, as the popularity of telehealth among members and employees continues to grow, many plan sponsors are looking at the benefits of adopting the virtual model for providing behavioral health services and its potential to save time and money for everyone involved.
Health plans and employers can help members navigate the path to the right behavioral health care by taking these steps:
- Reevaluate the behavioral health benefits you are providing your members and employees
- Ensure you are providing a wide range of options for your members and employees to access the behavioral health care they need, including virtual options
- Communicate these options and ensure your members and employees know that they are part of their benefits plan
1 MDLIVE Telehealth A&U Study, June 2022
2 MDLIVE Client 2021 Utilization Data, August 2021
3 MDLIVE Telehealth A&U Study, June 2021