Both consumers and plan sponsors know the vital role of behavioral health. Yet, while members seek a workplace culture that supports their mental health, plan sponsors are more focused on independent behavioral health solutions.
Interest + Investment Disconnect
Virtual Behavioral Health Care Becomes Indispensable
The term “behavioral health” refers to the promotion of mental health, resilience and well-being, the treatment of mental and substance use disorders, and the support of those who experience and/or are in recovery from these conditions, along with their families and communities. With virtual solutions having established a new standard for convenience early in the pandemic, consumer demand for safety and simplicity continues to increase throughout health care at large. However, no single discipline has seen quite the expansion in virtual visits as mental health. In fact, therapy now represents the second-most common discipline for telehealth visits, a position previously held by specialized care. Since the earliest days of the pandemic, consumers have readily embraced virtual care for mental health services.
Consumers utilizing virtual care for mental health services:
Consumer Comfort with App-Based Virtual Therapy
Older generations—most starkly, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers—report feeling far less comfortable attending app-based virtual therapy sessions, versus in-person. Younger generations feel most comfortable with virtual therapy sessions.
Men express greater reluctance to use app-based services for mental health, while women are more likely to report being equally comfortable with both formats. Among respondents (both men and women) are more apt to embrace virtual care, feeling more comfortable in their own home or space remains the driving motivation.
All Consumer Respondents
All consumer respondents’ reasons for greater comfort with virtual mental health care:
If given a choice, 55% of consumers would prefer video calls as the point of access, followed by phone calls at 22%. Only 14% prefer mobile apps, and 9% identified text message as their digital care solution of choice.
HR decision-makers report feeling well equipped to address a wide variety of member concerns, including stress management, chronic diseases and more. Nevertheless, they regard mental health as a more difficult challenge that requires outside expertise and support. Both audiences recognize the magnitude of the challenge they are confronting—particularly as the emotional toll of the pandemic grows more evident—and are wise to enlist the support of professionals and other resources.
Areas of behavioral health where plan sponsors need the most support:
Lost In Translation
While 66% of consumers report satisfaction with the behavioral health support and benefits they receive from their employers, only a smaller subset of that satisfied segment expresses outright enthusiasm. The fact that most consumers regard their behavioral health care as merely adequate suggests a greater need for investment in this field. Given consumers’ keen interest in augmenting their behavioral health benefits, this lukewarm response indicates an opportunity for plan sponsors to promote benefit offerings and to target their investments in the future.
Consumer satisfaction with behavioral health
support and benefits.
Digital Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Digital cognitive behavioral therapy (dCBT) is the top area of behavioral health support that HR decision-makers currently provide (35%), intend to expand (33%), and consider the most urgent area to address (15%). Health plan leaders are strongly aligned with HR decision-makers on the value of dCBT, with 35% of each segment citing it as a behavioral health tool or benefit offered by their organization. However, when members were asked to identify their current employer-offered behavioral health tools, only 7% named dCBT—suggesting low awareness of its availability or a lack of understanding of what dCBT is.
HR decision-makers and health plan leaders both recognize the importance of investing in behavioral health support. Apart from their common interest in dCBT, though, these enterprise segments prioritize different solutions for their stakeholders. Health plan leaders demonstrate a stronger preference for navigation services (47%) and employee assistance programs (47%), illustrating the two groups’ contrasting approaches to mental health support.
Behavioral health support currently provided by organization/plan:
Despite employers’ and consumers’ mutual interest in mental health support, it’s unclear whether they are aligned when it comes to the strategies necessary to address it. Consumers continue to voice a desire for mental health support that deals with issues like work-life balance, burnout, etc. The research reflects their desire for a shift in broader organizational culture and environment as a means of supporting mental health. However, HR decision-makers and health plan leaders prioritize tools and resources that allow members to achieve mental health independently.
This trend may give plan sponsors pause. It indicates a divide between the cultural changes that employees want, and the concrete, tactical behavioral health benefits being offered. Perhaps more alarming, however, is employees’ apparent lack of understanding when it comes to the behavioral health support tools that are part of their employer-provided benefits.
Top five behavioral health support tools requested by consumers:
Whole-Person Health as Common Ground
Whole-person health considers the physical, behavioral and social needs of a single patient as part of a whole system, with each element contributing to long-term outcomes. A majority of consumers embrace whole-person health, although it manifests in dramatically different forms—from traditional medicine, fitness and nutrition, to cannabis/CBD products, stress management support and alternative medicine. Only 16% of respondents indicated they had not engaged in whole-person health care. Meanwhile, responses remained remarkably consistent year-over-year. It’s also worth noting that 53% of 2021 respondents completely agree that employers should provide benefits for whole-person health, in line with their responses in 2020. Research points to strong consumer demand for whole-person care as part of the complete health benefits package.
93% of consumers agree that employers should provide benefits for whole-person health.
Research points to strong consumer demand for whole-person care as part of the complete health benefits package. Also, consumers are clear about the essential role of primary care in the support and management of whole-person health, with 61% consulting with their primary care physician in that capacity.
Should employers provide benefits for whole-person health:
It’s also worth noting that 53% of 2021 respondents completely agree that employers should provide benefits for whole-person health, in line with their responses in 2020.
Types of whole-person health consumers believe employers should provide:
Plan sponsors continue to prioritize whole-person health solutions for near-term investment, an approach that aligns relatively well with members’ demand for broader changes to workplace culture and environment.
This overlap is an important piece of common ground that can help to resolve the two audiences’ very different visions of behavioral health benefits. For example, plan sponsors’ anticipated investments for the next several years indicate that they are beginning to respond to consumers’ growing expectation of whole-person health benefits.
Plan-sponsors’ top three anticipated organizational investments over the next 2-3 years:
Behavioral health solutions
Managing the longer-term health ramifications of deferring routine care/procedures/screenings as a result of the pandemic:
Implementing new management solutions for specific conditions (e.g., diabetes, pulmonary, cardiovascular):
HRDM Shift to Whole-Person Health
of HRDMs anticipate shifting focus to address employees’ whole-person health/wellness
EXPERT PERSPECTIVE“The mind and body are intertwined. Behavioral health conditions are associated with increased intensity of physical health problems, which drives increased costs.”
EVA BORDEN | VICE PRESIDENT, BEHAVIORAL HEALTH
Evernorth Behavioral Health provides personalized, quick access to value-based care across the spectrum of behavioral health needs. With data-centric insights to identify emerging needs, Evernorth matches members with the right resources at the right time, provides ongoing measurement, and delivers end-to-end care that drives overall cost savings—all while empowering whole-person health.
It’s vital to listen carefully to members—especially if they voice any hesitation about virtual care. Plan sponsors can ensure that digital health options are prioritized according to member preferences as they continue to navigate the rapidly changing environment.