Mental illness is a worldwide issue. In the U.S. alone, NAMI reports that one in five adults live with a mental illness, and the CDC shows that there is one death by suicide every eleven minutes and four hospitalizations for each of those deaths.
These statistics are alarming and something everyone should be aware of. However, health insurance companies especially need to take note of this issue as they directly impact subscriber satisfaction and profit margins. They can lower these statistics by offering counseling as preventive care to improve overall mental health and raise awareness while reducing utilization and improving your company’s bottom line.
How mental health care affects costs for insurance companies
Those with untreated mental health conditions are more likely to use their insurance due to a higher risk of physical ailments. Untreated mental illnesses increase costs and put the subscriber at risk for other mental health conditions and physical diseases.
Lack of mental health treatment can create higher costs for insurance companies. In fact, the CDC reports that emergency department visits that lasted longer than four hours or more were more common in those with a mental illness than those considered mentally healthy.
The Healthcare Costs and Utilization Project noted in their 2019 statistical brief that “Stays principally for MSUDs (mental and substance use disorder) cost $15.3 billion (3.6 percent of total hospital costs). On average, stays for MSUDs cost $7,100 and were 6.4 days.”
While this statistic is aimed at hospitals, that cost directly affects insurance companies.
The report goes on to say that, “Although uncommon, stays for eating disorders were the costliest ($19,400 per stay) and the longest (14 days, on average) type of MSUD stay. Inpatient stays for schizophrenia were the second costliest ($8,900 per stay) and second longest (11 days on average).”
These statistics don’t include the impact mental health has on the body. When considering the cost of mental illness, insurance companies must recognize how mental health conditions impact the body and how many physical ailments are linked to conditions such as depression and anxiety.
How mental health affects the body
While treatment for the body and mind are often separated, studies have shown that the two are intertwined and that mental health is associated with chronic illnesses.
According to WebMD, depression has been linked to illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis. The National Institute of Health has similarly shown a higher risk for stroke, pain, Alzheimer’s disease, and osteoporosis in those who suffer from depression. Plus, the MHA reports that those with anxiety may be at an increased risk for skin diseases.
These things are essential to consider since treating for the possible adverse physical side effects outweighs the costs of preventive care.
When mental health conditions present as physical issues
Some mental health conditions can present as physical issues. An example of this would be burnout. While not an official diagnosis, burnout can cause physical issues such as stomach issues, headaches, and sleep problems. Without mental health care, realizing this ailment stems from a mental health problem could take months’ worth of doctor appointments while also increasing stress and anxiety for the individual.
Anxiety is another issue that is often mistaken for a physical ailment. Many who experience anxiety report feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or complain of headaches. Difficulty breathing, trembling, tense muscles, bloating, and aches and pains are sometimes symptoms of anxiety rather than a physical illness.
Another lesser-known condition is dysautonomia, which is a disorder of the autonomic nervous system. And while this isn’t strictly a mental health condition, therapy and EMDR have been shown to help. Learn more about dysautonomia in our blog here.
Insurance companies must understand that mental health plays a large role in physical wellness. Bridging this gap is the first step towards healthier subscribers, lower utilization, and higher profits.
How mental health treatment can lower costs for insurance companies
By encouraging subscribers to attend counseling for mental health concerns, insurance companies can save by reducing utilization for high-dollar health issues (such as cancer), emergency room visits, and chronic issues.
A study posted by psychiatryonline.org reposted that between 2009 and 2011, when the study ran, “There were an estimated 1,247,000 anxiety-related ED (emergency department) visits annually, representing 93% of all ED visits.”
More recently, in 2017, the NIH posted a study that focused on ER visits where a patient went to the ER for chest pains caused by anxiety rather than a heart condition. They found that “77.1 percent of patients who reported panic attacks had visited the emergency department with non-cardiac chest pain following a panic attack.” Because of this stat (among others), the study states that their overall findings indicate panic attacks may be the cause of many chest pain ER visits.
Note that these issues could be avoided, and the utilization of emergency staff lessened by offering preventive care and solving the core issue before the problem becomes severe enough to seek emergency support.
Utilization may increase for physical illness when mental illness is present, though more research is needed for a definitive answer. Still, the National Institute of Health lists a study that states, “We speculate that perhaps most medical illnesses occur with greater frequency in SMI (Severe mental illness), which in itself serves as a vulnerability factor.”
Not only that, but the CDC states that 90% of the nation’s $4.1 trillion is annually spent on those with chronic and mental health conditions.
How preventive mental health care can save insurance companies money
By treating mental health conditions from the start, individuals experiencing mental illness can address the presenting issue and lower their risk of developing a chronic physical issue down the line.
Although more often used solely as a treatment method, counseling can also offer preventative care. This kind of counseling includes teaching skills to build resilience and utilize coping skills. Those who attend preventive counseling also learn how to handle conflicts and prevent any concerns from worsening. Preventive care is vital for staying healthy both mentally and physically.
Almost half of the premature deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to behavioral concerns and are preventable, as noted by PBR.org. These deaths are caused by things like smoking and poor diet, which are often used by individuals as coping mechanisms.
By learning healthier coping skills and communication techniques through solution-focused therapy, individuals would gain the knowledge and support needed to break away from unhealthy habits, leading to healthier subscribers with a longer life span.
By offering mental health treatment and preventative care through counseling, insurance companies and their subscribers alike can benefit from healthier minds, bodies, and wallets.
If you are an insurance company and would like to collaborate to offer mental health care to your subscribers, reach out to Health for Life Counseling on our contact page or give us a call at 616-200-4433.
If you are in need of counseling or would like to know more about how preventive care can help you, you can also reach out to us on our contact page or give us a call at 616-200-4433.
Health for Life Counseling offers advanced and specialized psychotherapy in Grand Rapids, MI and the West Michigan area. If you are looking for online counseling, we serve the entire state of Michigan.