Coverage For Mental Health Via Telemedicine Soars At U.S. Employers

Insurance coverage of mental health services via telehealth technology is surging to unprecedented levels amid an opioid abuse epidemic and increased access to behavioral healthcare generally, a new report and telemedicine companies say.

The National Business Group on Health said 56% of employers in 2018 plan to offer telehealth for behavioral health services as a covered benefit . That’s more than double the percentage of employers offering telehealth mental health services this year, NBGH says in its new annual health benefits survey.

The trend of large employers offering such access comes following a push in recent years by providers of such services, including American Well, MDLive, Quartet and Teladoc. These firms provide technology and related access to psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists via smart phone, tablet and computer as the nation grapples with a rising rate of suicides, opioid addiction and other mental health issues. Opioid abuse is of particular concern to employers with 80% of employers concerned about "inappropriate use and abuse," NBGH analysis shows.

“While telehealth has shown a breakneck growth, more than doubling itself year over year for quite some time, behavioral telehealth has shown an even more astounding growth rate due to three simple reasons,” said Roy Schoenberg, CEO of American Well. “Access to behavioral services is even more challenging than access to medical care, the conversational nature of behavioral services makes video encounters perfect alternative to physical ones and the notion of privacy couldn’t be better addressed when you have the encounter in your own home.”

The push by these companies into telemedicine, or telehealth, comes as insurance companies and government health programs provide more reimbursement for online healthcare services including video consultations. Already, nearly all employers, or 96%, allow telehealth services for medical services and related treatments in states where it’s allowed, National Business Group on Health said.

"I'm glad more employers are embracing technology to improve access to behavioral health care,” Quartet CEO Arun Gupta said. “The real gains will be had though when the delivery system, particularly at the primary care level, is enabled to systematically treat mental health conditions in an integrated fashion."

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An increasing number of insurance companies have in the last two years added the technology of Quartet Health to help primary care doctors to better coordinate mental health treatment with psychiatrists and other behavioral health providers. The idea behind the Quartet effort is to bring a value-based model to mental health treatment, which is highly fragmented and known for a notoriously slow referral process between medical doctors and behavioral health providers. Quartet links patients via telehealth technology from their primary care doctor’s office for video consultations as well as online behavioral health.

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