Employers know their mental health benefits aren’t cutting it

Employers know their mental health benefits aren’t cutting it

As the U.S. continues to face a behavioral health provider shortage, employers are feeling frustrated that they can’t do more to help employees.

According to a survey by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions and the HR Policy Association, just one-third of employers were satisfied with access to behavioral health services through their network. Thirty-one percent of employers were disappointed at the efforts being made to address gaps in access, and 66% did not feel that their behavioral health directories truly reflected what was available to employees.

“Many of the services provided, particularly in managing network access, continue to fall short of employer expectations,” Michael Thompson, National Alliance president and CEO, said in a release. ‘While there are bright spots, as an industry we still have a long way to go to meet the needs of employees and their families.”

This frustration comes at a time when more employees than ever are in need of behavioral health care services. Eighty-six percent of employees experienced a mental health challenge in the past year, according to Lyra’s annual State of Workforce Mental Health report. While 33% were able to access care, a third said their benefits don’t effectively address their needs.

Access to therapists and other behavioral health professionals is also a challenge: it’s expected that the U.S. will be short up to 32,000 licensed psychiatrists by 2024. These shortages have led to long wait times, misdiagnoses and other barriers to care.

In many cases, telehealth and behavioral health coaching services have rushed in to fill these gaps. The National Alliance survey found that 95% of employers agreed that virtual care and telehealth was an important resource, and 65% felt satisfied these programs were meeting the needs of their workers.

However, engagement still remains a challenge. Despite efforts to provide benefits and solve accessibility challenges, 61% of employers were still dissatisfied with employee engagement in these offerings, the National Alliance survey found.

For many employees, especially those in marginalized communities like BIPOC and LGBTQ workers, access and support is even harder to come by. For example, Kaiser Family Foundation found that just 5% of Black individuals have sought care for mental health issues.

While employers acknowledge the necessity of providing culturally competent behavioral health care, only 27% of organizations surveyed by the National Alliance were satisfied that their service providers are tailoring their benefits to diverse communities.

The National Alliance conducted this survey five years after their previous mental health report, and while much has changed in that time, providers and employers must do more to move the needle on making mental health care accessible and equitable for all.

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