Mental health is a major concern for employers. Here's where they say their health plans can improve

Mental health is a major concern for employers, and relatively few are satisfied with the state of their coverage networks, according to a new survey.

The National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions polled 221 employers that provide coverage to more than 10 million employees and their dependents and found that just 31% are satisfied with network access for behavioral health care services. In addition, only 34% of employers said that their behavioral health care directors accurately reflected the providers available to their plan members.

Michael Thompson, National Alliance president and CEO, said in a release that the findings highlight "we still have a long way to go to meet the needs of employees and their families" in providing behavioral health to workers.

“Our study found a strong employer consensus on what is critical and significant variation in health plan and vendor performance,” Thompson said. “Many of the services provided, particularly in managing network access, continue to fall short of employer expectations."

For example, 95% of the surveyed employers said that telebehavioral health was important to them, but only 65% said they were satisfied with these services. The alliance released a report in 2018 that highlighted how health plans and behavioral health services are tackling issues, and, while improvements have been made in the last five years, there's still plenty of work to be done, Thompson said.

“While some progress is evident, many of the issues we cited in 2018 have persisted and we must double down on industry commitment and accountability to address these issues moving forward," he said.

Many (84%) of the surveyed employers said it is important for their health plan to back integrating and promoting behavioral health services, but only 24% were satisfied with this, according to the survey. Ninety-two percent said that driving high engagement with behavioral health programs in the workplace is a priority, but only 39% said they were satisfied.

Another area of improvement: tailoring behavioral health benefits to unique member populations, such as people of color and LGBTQIA+ patients. The survey found that just 27% of employers are satisfied with these services. In addition, just 14% said they were satisfied with supports aimed at promoting integrated, whole-person health using data and care coordination.

The surveyed employers also said that they would like to see improvement around reporting for behavioral health outcomes. Eighty-four percent said it was important for their health plan to support this effort, but just 28% were satisfied with the services rendered so far.

“Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of employees and their families is a top priority for major employers,” said Mark Wilson, vice president of health and employment policy and chief economist for the HR Policy Association, in the announcement. “We need to work collaboratively with all stakeholders, especially our health plan and vendor partners, if we are going to be able to provide timely access to affordable, high-quality behavioral health providers.”