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U.S. employers act to improve quality and access to behavioral health programs

With growing need for services, nearly nine in 10 employers cite behavioral health as an important priority in Willis Towers Watson survey


March 15, 2017

With anxiety, depression and substance abuse on the rise in the general population, 88% of U.S. employers say behavioral health is an important priority.

ARLINGTON, VA, March 15, 2017 — The findings are from a survey of 314 U.S. employers fielded in October 2016. Among employers’ top priorities over the next three years are:

  • Locating more timely and effective treatment of behavioral health issues (63%)
  • Integrating behavioral health case management with medical and disability case management (61%) for a more holistic view of employee health
  • Providing better support for complex behavioral health conditions (56%)
  • Expanding access to care (52%)

The survey also found that employers intend to address the root causes of workplace behavioral health issues. More than one third (36%) have already assessed and taken steps to reduce stress and improve resiliency; another 47% are planning or considering action over the next three years. More than one quarter (28%) already provide educational programs about the warning signs of behavioral health issues or distress; another 41% are planning or considering such programs over the next three years. One quarter (25%) already provide educational programs to reduce the stigma of behavioral health conditions; another 35% are planning or considering doing so over the next three years.

“Employers are concerned about behavioral health issues because of the impact on costs, employee health and productivity, and workplace safety,” said Julie Stone, a national health care practice leader at Willis Towers Watson. “The seriousness of the issues — both for employers and employees — has led to a deeper understanding of the problem and greater resolve to take action. Employers are now more committed than ever to improving access to treatment, providing employees with better coordination of care across various health programs and reducing the stigma that could be associated with behavioral health through educational programs.”

Other findings from the survey include:

  • More employers will provide coverage for treatment of behavioral health issues through telemedicine for convenience and to improve access to mental health specialists that might not be available locally for in-person consultations. Today, 25% of employers provide coverage for treating behavioral health issues via telemedicine. Another 46% are planning to or considering it over the next three years.
  • Employers focus equally on quality, cost and access when selecting behavioral health providers, regardless of the importance they place on various levels of treatment. When asked to rate the importance of three levels of treatment over the next three years — each level individually — 50% of employers rated outpatient networks as “extremely important,” 40% rated inpatient networks “extremely important” and 32% rated residential care “extremely important.”
  • A large majority of employers depend on their medical carriers for behavioral health services. More than two thirds of employers (70%) contract with their medical carriers for behavioral health benefits and services, while 27% use both their medical carrier and behavioral health services vendors. Just 3% carve out all services to a separate behavioral health vendor. For telemedicine services, 36% contract directly only with a telemedicine vendor.
  • Employers are showing more interest in mobile apps to help employees manage behavioral health needs. The percentage of employers planning to include mobile apps in their service offerings for employees is expected to g. Examples of specific apps include:
    • Stress reduction or resiliency: 11% of employers offer today, increasing to 38% over the next three years
    • Anxiety: 7% today, increasing to 31% over the next three years
    • Sleep disorders: 5% today, increasing to 27% over the next three years

About the survey

The Willis Towers Watson 2017 Behavioral Health Survey was fielded in October through November 2016 to determine how U.S. employers use, deliver and view behavioral health programs. The 314 employers that responded are midsize to large companies across a variety of industries and represent 3.9 million employees.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 40,000 employees serving more than 140 countries. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.

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