Exploring Ways to Improve Wellbeing and Access to Mental Health Services

September 17, 2021

Employers, providers, and carriers joined an HR Policy webinar to discuss how different stakeholders are addressing the mental health crisis and how they can work together to improve access to behavioral health services.

Mental health is “an issue that for too long has been relegated to the secondary or tertiary list of priorities.  We can no longer let that be the case.”  David Rodriguez, Chair of the American Health Policy Institute and Executive Vice President and Global Chief HR Officer, Marriott International, kicked off the session with a call to action for employers to make mental health a priority so they can build holistically healthy workplaces.

Employee Benefits Security Administration Deputy Assistant Secretary Ali Khawar joined as a special guest and highlighted the U.S. Department of Labor’s efforts to reduce mental health stigma and raise awareness for Suicide Prevention Month, taking place this September.  He also discussed the importance of all stakeholders working together to create environments that not only reduce the stigma of mental health but provide appropriate outlets for individuals to get the help they need. 

Our panelists included: Judy Fennimore, Vice President Benefits, Marriott International; James Garvie, Senior Vice President Total Rewards and HR Technology, Southern Company; James Jones, Vice President Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, Emerson; Charles Lattarulo, Director Healthy Minds, American Express; and Dr. Rhonda Robinson Beale, SVP Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Mental Health Services, UnitedHealth Group Inc.

Thinking outside the box of depression and anxiety:  Each panelist offered steps they have taken to help their employees reduce stress and improve emotional wellbeing by focusing on common stressors at work and beyond.  These include support programs for employees going through divorce or offering loans at reasonable rates so that employees can avoid high-interest credit card debt.

“Your brain is physical”:  Andy Keller, President and CEO of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, called on employers to view mental health as no different than any other form of health care and to put pressure on insurers and providers to expand access.  Keller provided insights into the success they have in seen in Texas while using the Collaborative Care Model, which integrates primary care and behavioral health care, seeing a 60% increase in positive response to mental health and substance abuse treatment while lowering the total cost of care. 

Meanwhile, HR Policy is engaged on Capitol Hill with two pressing mental health policy proposals:

  • House budget reconciliation bill—employers may face substantial civil monetary penalties for mental health parity violations.  The House budget reconciliation bill text currently includes a provision that will allow DOL to levy civil monetary penalties on group health plans that violate the mental health parity law.  HR Policy is urging Congress to rethink these penalties as the Department of Labor has yet to put out clear guidance on how employers can ensure they are not violating the parity law.

  • HR Policy strongly supports Representatives Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) and Jaime Herrera Beutler’s (R-WA) recently introduced legislation on collaborative care models, which provides grants for primary care offices to implement these models which have been proven effective by over 90 randomized control trials.