Could Mental Health be Your Biggest Cost Driver?

Friday, November 15, 2019

More than 350 million people suffer from depression, making it the leading cause of disability around the world (World Health Organization). Closer to home, nearly 16 million American adults, or almost 7% of the adult population, had at least one major depressive episode in 2013 (The National Institute of Mental Health).

And it gets worse. A study in the July 5, 2017 Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (paid subscription required) found that nearly 19% of the estimated 38.6 million people with depression and anxiety disorders received at least two prescriptions for opioids during a year. Researchers claim that people suffering from these two common mental disorders are prescribed more than half of the opioid prescriptions written each year.

Opioid Addiction and Mental Health

The Pulpit Rock

Mental Health Facts in America
(NAMI)

Opioid abuse is growing, with an estimated 2.4 million people in the US abusing prescription painkillers (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Addiction often begins with a common physical injury or ailment like a backache or arthritis. Experts aren’t sure why, but opioid use and depression are related—suffering from one increases the risk of the other occurring.

Employers Should be Very Concerned

The US spent an estimated $201 billion on mental disorders in 2013, making it more costly than heart disease and cancer (journal Health Affairs). Depression and anxiety can last for weeks, months, or even years, and often impact a person’s:

  • Emotional well-being
  • Physical health
  • Productivity
  • Relationships
  • Financial stability

Because mental health can also increase the risk of chronic illness, disability, and alcohol abuse, it’s easy to see how, all factors considered, it’s one of the costliest and most important conditions to treat effectively. To successfully manage benefits costs, you must understand how depression, anxiety, other mental disorders, and opioid use are impacting your employees and their dependents.

You Need Integrated Data

If you aren’t integrating data across your medical and pharmacy programs, you aren’t getting a true picture of your healthcare spending. Adding workers’ compensation, disability, and absence management data will give you an even more comprehensive view of what’s happening in your population.

Some things your integrated data may reveal:

  • The impact mental disorders are having on absenteeism and productivity.
  • The percentage of your population taking opioids but who do not have prescriptions for antidepressants.
  • The number of members who have mental health prescriptions but have not had them filled.
  • If any employees have duplicate prescriptions across medical and workers’ compensation or disability programs (fraud and abuse).

Possible Interventions

The insight you uncover will help you implement more effective programs targeted at your population. Possible interventions include:

  • Implementing a wellness program
  • Initiating an educational campaign encouraging employees taking any pain medication to talk to their doctors about depression and counseling

Whatever you do, include mental health in your benefits program discussions so you’re addressing the real drivers impacting your costs.

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