Can We Talk?–Blog by Deb Krause, Action Group Vice President (Part 1 of 3)
“One in five people living in the U.S. will develop a mental illness or substance use disorder in their lives. Many of these people will lose their jobs because they are unwilling or unable to talk about their symptoms, obtain treatment, or ask for accommodations. It’s ironic since we know work helps people get better by providing structure, interaction with others, and a reason to get up in the morning.”
Sue Abderholden, Executive Director, NAMI Minnesota
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. There may be someone in your life — a family member, co-worker, or neighbor — where it would be good for you to reach out. “Can we talk? I’m worried about you. Are you OK?” I urge you to have that conversation and demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in their well-being. However, a lot has been written on this topic, and it is not the primary purpose of this blog. (Read parts two and three in this series.)
As vice president of The Action Group, the conversation I am encouraging is between employers and their health plan(s). The 2019 Annual Employer Benefits Survey shows that mental health is important and relevant to employers. Overwhelmingly, the 108 responding Minnesota employers indicated, “Mental health is important in my health management strategy over the next two years” (83%), and “The mental health of our employees is directly linked to the overall performance of our organization” (99%).
Can we talk? It’s a simple question, but when I hear it, I immediately wonder, “Is something wrong?” And, in this case, the answer is YES — something is wrong. We have strong evidence that — despite the importance and relevance of mental health— employees are not always getting the mental health care they need to get better and employers (as plan sponsors and fiduciaries) do not always have the information they need to be vigilant. So, it’s time to talk.
First, we have evidence that employees are not always getting the mental health care they need to get better. Here it is:
- “In a scathing decision, a federal judge blasted a subsidiary of the nation’s largest insurance company for focusing on ‘the bottom line as much or more’ than patients’ health, saying the insurer illegally denied [mental health] treatment to thousands of people. The judge also slammed the company’s medical directors for being ‘deceptive’ under oath.” Read more here.
- “…His story is now part of a class action lawsuit that may include as many as 50,000 people challenging UnitedHealth’s standards for behavioral care.” Read moving patient impact stories here.
- “A 5 INVESTIGATES review of medical, state and court records found that health insurance companies have repeatedly denied coverage to patients who are seeking treatment for mental health-related disorders.” Read more here.
- MN Community Measurement’s first-ever Depression Care in Minnesota report features statewide adult and adolescent mental health care. View the report here.
Describe it how you want. Impeded access to mental health care is horrifying and heartbreaking, and it needs to be a call to action for employers.
Watch for part 2 of my blog with further evidence that it’s time to talk.
Helpful Resources for Employers
- Contract language for employers to use with their health plan related to mental health parity: Model hold harmless language
- A turnkey data request form for employers to send to their health plans to understand employees’ experience in accessing and receiving mental health care: Model data request form
- A guide produced for employers, including valuable background information on mental health care, best practices, free resources, and more: Working Well in Minnesota: Insights and Actions to Help Minnesota Employers Advance Mental Health in the Workplace (Minnesota Health Action Group original publication)
- Summary of findings from a mental health RFI for national health plans and behavioral health organizations: Achieving Value in Mental Health Support: A Deep Dive Powered by eValue8 (National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions)
- Free employer resources including case studies, turnkey programs, cost calculators, and more: American Psychiatric Association Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health
- Infographic with key information about a model proven to improve the effectiveness of mental health care: The Collaborative Care Model
Deb Krause is Vice President of the Minnesota Health Action Group.