Although 99% of employers say that “effective and timely” access to in-network behavioral health providers is vital, only 31% are satisfied with their networks, a new survey shows.
The survey, published Tuesday, was conducted by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions and HR Policy Association and was funded by the Path Forward for Mental Health and Substance Use. The researchers conducted the survey online from February to March and received responses from 221 private and public employers.
The report also found that while telebehavioral health services were important to 95% of respondents, only 65% were satisfied with these services. When it comes to behavioral health directories, just 34% of employers agreed that directories had accurate information. CMS proposed making a national provider directory, though it will be a difficult undertaking.
“Many service providers have not taken ownership of the mental health access issue for their members leaving employers and their employees to contend with directories that are not reflective of who is actually available and networks that are often not taking new patients,” said Michael Thompson, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, in an email. “Employers expect their service providers to systematically assess and address access, facilitate appointments when access issues arise and make sure directories appropriately reflect who is available to provide services.”
Employers said that communities of color and LGBTQ+ employees especially struggle when it comes to quality access to behavioral health services. Only 27% of respondents were satisfied with their service providers’ ability to tailor care to these communities’ needs.
The sheer lack of behavioral health providers is also a barrier when it comes to having adequate access to mental health services, added Mark Wilson, vice president of health and employment policy and chief economist for the HR Policy Association.
“Employers are trying a variety of things to improve timely access, but without a lot more providers it will be an uphill battle,” Wilson said in an email.
Employers’ next steps should be “to take these findings back to their carriers and vendors and insist on improvements,” Wilson said. In addition, the healthcare industry needs to work on integrating behavioral health into primary care to address the workforce shortage, Thompson added. About 84% of employers agreed that it’s important for health plans to promote and incentivize integrating behavioral health into primary care. Only 28% are satisfied with health plans’ actions on this, however.
Ultimately, it comes down to health plans and vendors to make the changes, Wilson said.
“Generally, employers are at the mercy of the carriers and vendors they contract with to provide timely access to affordable high-quality behavioral health providers,” Wilson said. “While they can demand better performance, in the end their only choices are to go to another carrier or seek some type of benefit overlay, carve-in, or carve-out in order to improve access.”
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