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Employers are 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 conducted by KFF.

Almost half of surveyed large employers – those with at least 200 workers – reported that a growing proportion of their workers use mental health services. Yet nearly a third of that group said their health plan’s network does not have enough behavioral health care providers for employees to have timely access to the care they need.

As millions of employees were sent away from locked-down office buildings to work from home or risked infection while working on the front lines, mental health problems skyrocketed. Now, even as many workplaces have returned to a semblance of “normalcy,” 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’s network, only 44% of all employers reported having enough behavioral health providers, according to the KFF survey.

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

The 2022 KFF Employer Health Benefits Survey, released on October 27, analyzed the responses of a random sample of 2,188 employers with at least three employees.

Overall, the survey found that this year’s premiums for health care coverage were remarkably similar to last year’s. Annual premiums for family coverage averaged $22,463 this year, up from $22,221 last year. On average, workers are paying $6,106 for those premiums this year, with employers picking up the rest of the tab.

For single coverage, workers pay $1,327 out-of-pocket for their premiums, which total $7,911 on average. Employers pay the remaining portion.

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

That trend may not continue.

“Employers are already worried about what they’re paying for health premiums, but this could be the calm before the storm as recent inflation suggests bigger increases are on the way,” Drew Altman, KFF president and CEO, said in a news release that accompanied the report, said. . “Given the tight labor market and rising wages, it will be difficult for employers to pass on costs to workers when costs rise.”

Among large employers, 14% said more employees are using services to treat substance use in 2022, although about half said they did not know if there had been an increase, according to the survey.

Among all surveyed employers with 50 or more workers, 17% said they also saw an increase in the number of workers requesting leave for mental health conditions under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. That law allows certain employees at companies with 50 or more workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually without the risk of losing their jobs.

Although the use of telemedicine services has eased somewhat since early pandemic lockdowns, 90% of employers surveyed reported offering a plan that covers telemedicine services. More than half of large employers reported that telemedicine would be “very important” in enabling them to provide their workers with access to behavioral health services in the future. By contrast, only about a third of those employers said the same was true of providing access to primary care, while 24% said telemedicine would be “very important” in enabling them to provide access to specialty care.

Twenty-seven percent of large employers reported adding mental health care providers to their plan’s network this year, either in person or through telemedicine.

In addition to covering mental and behavioral health care services, 81% of large firms said they had an employee assistance program for mental health services, while 44% said they offered employees mental health self-care apps.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.
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