10 best practices for optimizing mental health care during open enrollment

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By Kathleen Greer, Founder of KGA and Tom Shjerven, CEBS, National Behavioral Consortium

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health concerns have been elevated in the minds of almost every benefit purchaser. A knowledgeable benefit broker or consultant is critical for helping organizations make the right behavioral health choices for their employee population.

Access to effective behavioral health care is the number one health concern of employers today. In the U.S., national surveys indicate that 45% of the population reveal a high prevalence of distress during COVID-19. In addition, researchers at the University of British Columbia and CMHA report that thirty-right percent of employees report a deterioration in mental health since the onset of the pandemic. This effect is more pronounced in groups with pre-existing mental health conditions (59%) those with disabilities (48%) and parents with children under 10 years of age (45%).

There is a pivotal moment when an employee or family member realizes that he or she needs help. It is worth the time to think about who may receive the first call for help and how that call can be more welcoming. It’s hard to ask for help and difficult to receive it in systems that can be disjointed. A strong benefit broker or consultant can play an important role in selecting and streamlining resources that make mental health care more accessible.

Members of the National Behavioral Consortium have 10 suggestions for brokers and consultants during open enrollment.

Look at the company's values
Is the company interested in improving access to behavioral health care or in reducing the stigma of mental health?
Facilitate a discussion about behavioral health needs with senior management
A champion in leadership who speaks out can make a big difference in how open people are about mental health struggles.
Do a thorough assessment of all the behavioral health-related resources within the organization
In addition to mental health and substance use treatment coverage in the health plan, evaluate services provided through the EAP, wellness program and any point solutions such as telehealth or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) programs.
Compile data from behavioral health-related programs to evaluate engagement and effectiveness
This data will provide a benchmark for future evaluation.
Evaluate how easy it is to access behavioral health care
Make note of any access problems or barriers so they can be removed.
Determine if the plan allows for an elimination or reduction in behavioral health co-pays and deductibles
These plans will be more appealing to employees and reduce barriers to care.
Integrate benefit offerings
Make sure that medical and behavioral health services are well integrated within the health plan and with all other mental health related benefits.
Recognize that all EAPs are not created equal
Evaluate the effectiveness of the EAP including access, network availability, and follow-up. Does the EAP train managers to recognize problems? Is the EAP full-service, robust, and proactive? Does the EAP keep track of other benefits?
Understand the boundaries of your EAP
Ask the EAP to describe what they are doing to recommend or add different treatment modalities such as telehealth, CBT programs and other point solutions.
Create a win-win situation with the EAP to increase engagement
Make sure the EAP is knowledgeable about all of your mental health, substance use and work life benefits so they can recommend other appropriate benefits.