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There’s no way around it—2020 has been a stressful year. Between increased health anxieties over the global coronavirus pandemic, adjusting to shelter-in-place orders, transitioning to work-from-home and learning to navigate remote learning while schools are shut down, major civil rights protests, and an uncertain economic future, it’s no wonder that Americans’ mental health is suffering.
Elinore McCance-Katz, the assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse at the Department of Health and Human Services, stated that, "We're quite concerned with what we're learning from the field, what's going on in communities that have been under stay-at-home orders. There are situations in which people have lost employment. They've lost their jobs, the structure to their lives. This puts them in a position where they have a lot of time on their hands, stress, anxiety, and boredom."1
Health experts and social workers across the country worry about how Covid-19 disruptions will impact risk factors for deaths of despair, including increased anxiety, unemployment, and lack of community connections amid social distancing guidelines.
It is a well-known fact that satisfied and happy workers provide better customer service and are more productive each day, leading to a 12% spike in productivity for your business and higher profits, according to a recent study at the University of Warwick. According to Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, the brain works more effectively when a person is feeling positive and is more creative, adopting better problem solving skills with this positive mindset. In this blog post, we’ll discuss how the mental health industry has responded to coronavirus disruptions by shifting from in-person visits to offering broader telehealth and telemedicine services. We’ll also give you some tips for how you can best support your employees’ mental health through difficult times.
Mental Health Providers Shift to Telehealth and Telemedicine
The use of telehealth services—already on the rise for the past several years—has soared during the coronavirus disruptions. Telehealth and telemedicine platforms utilize virtual technology to help physicians and patients communicate with each other, even if they are not in the same physical location. This communication can be either in real-time or delayed, via phone, webcam, or email. Telemedicine can be used for evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of patients.
There are many advantages to telemedicine as a solution to mental health issues exacerbated by coronavirus disruptions—to both employers and their employees, including:
Allows providers to continue to treat mental health issues while staying within social distancing guidelines, reducing the risk of spreading Covid-19 to patients
Increased access to doctors, especially in rural areas
Greater access to specialists, especially for mental health services
Higher cost savings for patients and plan sponsors
Telehealth Regulations Eased in Response to the Coronavirus
Federal and state legislatures have acted swiftly to ease telehealth regulations in order to ensure and increase the availability of mental health services during the pandemic.
“The House of Representatives voted to allow the easing of telehealth restrictions for Medicare patients on March 5, and the Senate passed a similar bill 96-1. On March 6, HB 6074, Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act 2020 was signed by the president.
With implementation of the bill on March 17, The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) revised regulations that previously limited the patient location during telehealth encounters for Medicare patients, and then challenged state Medicaid agencies to adopt the same rules. Whereas previously, telehealth services could only take place in certain designated locations with the use of synchronous video technology, the bill allowed patients to receive services at home, using their telephone with some limitations on the type of phone. In addition, this bill included $500 million for an emergency waiver that will expand coverage for telehealth services in Medicare. Requirements around qualified providers and eligible services remain the same.”2
Insurance Carriers Waive Telemedicine and Other Costs
In response to the coronavirus, many insurance carriers are waiving copays and deductibles associated with telehealth services. Many carriers are also waiving fees or reimbursing providers for mental health services. You can find a list of how the major health insurance providers have taken action here.
Employee Assistance Programs
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides free and confidential assessments, counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees that experience personal and/or work-related problems. Each year, more than 40 million Americans experience mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, and substance abuse—and those instances will likely increase in 2020. An EAP is an additional tool you can have in your toolbox to keep your employees healthy in both body and mind. EAPs also help businesses address organizational components that may be contributing to a negative work environment, enabling them to resolve and prevent those types of issues from occurring.
EAPs offer managers leadership tactics to assist in consulting with employees, helping to develop a drug-free workplace, planning and responding to a workplace crisis, and providing training and orientation to employees and managers regarding stress and management skills. According to the Center for Prevention and Health Services, when EAP services were provided, work loss was avoided in 39% of cases and work productivity improved in 36% of cases. Essentially, with an EAP program in place, a company’s workers compensation, drug, medical, and disability costs can be reduced.
These are challenging times for business leaders. Implementing or improving a corporate wellness program that supports the mental health of your employees can be a daunting task—especially right now! Many business owners and/or smaller HR departments simply don't have the time to find the right program and make it successful.
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This material is provided for information only. It is not intended as legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel for advice specific to your business situation.
Taylor Cunningham is an Employee Benefits Consultant who provides clients with expert advice about the healthcare marketplace. She designs and implements benefits solutions to help her clients achieve their business goals. She welcomes any opportunity to discuss employee benefits strategies and improve a company's bottom-line.