Cigna study: How much behavioral health treatment can lower total cost of care

Cigna's logo displayed on a smartphone
Cigna has released a new study examining how behavioral health treatment can impact healthcare costs. (Piotr Swat/Shutterstock)

Leaving behavioral health conditions untreated can balloon healthcare costs, according to new data from Cigna.

Researchers at its Evernorth subsidiary found that when people diagnosed with a behavioral health condition receive outpatient treatment, it leads to fewer visits to the emergency department or inpatient facility. This can decrease costs by up to $1,377 per person per year, the study found.

Over two years, savings can add up to $3,109, according to the study.

Evernorth's analysts examined medical, behavioral and pharmaceutical claims over four years for 275,000 people who were newly diagnosed with conditions like depression, anxiety or substance abuse disorder.

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“The findings are ground-breaking, and demonstrate there is immense opportunity to help people throughout a lifelong mental health journey,” said Eva Borden, president of Evernorth Behavioral Health, in a statement.

“Behavioral outpatient care is a vital tool that helps a person explore symptoms that may lead to mental health distress, so they can enact new thought patterns and learn coping skills," Borden said. "These critical skills can help people feel better—and reduce avoidable medical services over time.”

The study found that the savings offset the costs associated with behavioral healthcare, highlighting a return on investment for health insurers in getting people into treatment, Cigna said. The savings and that ROI were both sustainable over two years, the study found.

In addition, medical and pharmacy cost savings in the first year were found on average in people who had at least three outpatient visits with a behavioral health provider, according to the study.

The study found one-year savings of between $755 and $1,377 per person among customers who had between three and 14 visits in that timeframe. Savings of between $1,107 and $3,109 over two years were found in people with between three and 19 visits during that window.

The study also has significant implications for people who have other conditions comorbid to behavioral health needs. The researchers note that prior studies have indicated healthcare costs are 2.8 to 6.2 times higher for people with comorbid physical and mental health conditions.

“The mind and body are intertwined. Behavioral health conditions are associated with increased intensity of physical health problems, which drives increased costs," said Doug Nemecek, M.D., chief medical officer of Evernorth Behavioral Health, in the study.