Employers are ill-equipped to navigate mental health tsunami

Karthik Ganesh. (EmpiRx Health)

Our country is in the throes of a mental health crisis that we are ill-equipped to manage. In New Jersey, nearly 29% of adults report symptoms of anxiety or depression, which mirrors the rates of depression and anxiety among adults across the U.S.

This has created a monumental and still-intensifying financial burden for employers who, in our current health care system, assume more than 80% of the cost of care on behalf of their employees.

Sadly, the mental health tsunami has yet to crest — which is why business leaders must make big changes now or suffer catastrophic consequences.

The cost of addressing the crisis pales in comparison to the cost of inaction, in both human and financial terms. Employees with unresolved depression experience a 35% reduction in productivity and an average of 31 days of missed work per year. This absenteeism translates to $210.5 billion in annual losses to the U.S. economy, not to mention the increased medical costs associated with untreated mental illness.

And the impact on individual employees and their families offers perhaps the grimmest statistics of all. Half of adults report a severe mental health crisis in their families, and 1 in 5 cites the inability to work or engage in other activities due to poor mental health. We have all been affected by this crisis and yet we have the power to make a difference.

The challenge is stark, and it is complicated by two opposing forces. Employers have a clear moral and financial obligation to address their employees’ mental health needs; however, spiraling costs across all facets of health care impede their ability to do so.

Therefore, the conversation about mental health is really one about the holistic health care needs of employees and how to meet those needs while mitigating waste and containing costs. This requires us to radically shift our understanding about what a health care benefits partner can and should deliver.

It’s not about increasing one’s benefits budget. It’s about ensuring maximum savings across medical, pharmacy and all other benefit categories to create the financial headroom to tackle mental health head-on.

Employers should demand more from their health care benefits partners, and they can by using their contributions as leverage. It is possible to reset the expectations placed on our health plans and our pharmacy benefits managers.

When we continue to blindly agree to the status quo, which equates to substandard benefits and increasing costs, we handcuff ourselves from doing what’s right by our employees and our bottom lines. We have the power in numbers to influence change, and we must do so now.

The time for inaction is over. Employers must demand improved cost, broad access, and enhanced care models, and, above all, value from their health care benefits partners. The tsunami is about to wash the ground from under us unless we reclaim power over our health benefits to recoup the value of our health care spends and ensure the health and safety of our employees.

Karthik Ganesh is CEO of Montvale-based EmpiRx Health.