- Minnesota-based nonprofit health plan Medica saw a 2,515% increase in the number of members who accessed mental healthcare through telehealth as it processed 17,000 such claims between late 2020 and early 2021, according to a May 10 announcement.
- Medica's analysis of the claims showed anxiety, depression and trauma — including diagnoses such as post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder — were the top three conditions treated by telehealth. Individuals ages 35 to 49 used telehealth most when seeking mental healthcare, and women using the service outnumbered men.
- The organization said it "fast-tracked" its onboarding process for providers offering telehealth visits during the pandemic and worked with providers to move care visits to a virtual setting. Medica also said it has reimbursed mental health telehealth visits at the same rate as in-person visits since 2013.
Medica's data resemble the observations of employee-benefits focused organizations through the pandemic. In many cases, adoption of telehealth and virtual care technology skyrocketed in 2020.
This is backed up by claims data. Last year, a spokesperson for Cigna told HR Dive that the company had seen a three-fold increase in virtual care utilization during the early months of the pandemic-induced care center closures compared to April 2019. Additionally, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association found in a May 2020 survey that virtual care use had grown 1.6 times since the summer of 2019, with more than half of that growth occurring since the beginning of the pandemic.
Since that time, employers have stated intentions to continue investing in virtual care. An August 2020 survey of large employers by the Business Group on Health found 53% considered the implementation of virtual care solutions to be their top healthcare benefits initiative for 2021, though the same item held the top spot for the third year in a row. Eighty-eight percent of respondents in the same survey had virtual care services in place for mental health last year, and more than 60% did the same for emotional well-being and resilience.
There are still issues for stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem to iron out as the technology grows, however, including concerns about how providers bill for virtual care and the associated healthcare bills that may be passed onto patients.
Generally, employers also are dealing with an acute demand for mental healthcare as their employees contend with several stressors in the wake of the pandemic. A March survey by Willis Towers Watson found fewer than one-third of employers said their well-being and caregiving benefit programs were effective in supporting workers during the pandemic, potentially indicating the need to put more structure and investment into such programs.
Employers may be able to improve access to mental healthcare by reducing or waiving costs to employees. In one of the latest such examples of this trend, Walmart announced this month it would expand no-cost counseling services for emotional well-being concerns and conditions such as anxiety and depression to all of its U.S. store associates and their family members.