Six employer groups representing large companies have sent a letter urging Congress to act on passing measures that would address the nation’s mental health and substance abuse crisis before the end of the year.
The organizations request that Congress pass the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act (H.R. 7666), as well as extend flexibility for health savings account (HSA)-eligible high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) to offer telehealth services before meeting their deductible.
The letter was signed by the American Benefits Council; the HR Policy Association; the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions; the Purchaser Business Group on Health; the Alliance; and the ERISA Industry Committee.
“Providing health coverage to more than 178 million Americans, employers play a critical role in providing access to affordable behavioral health services in communities around the country,” the organizations wrote. “We applaud the bipartisan work Congress has undertaken to expand access to behavioral health care. While much remains to be done to improve timely access to affordable, quality mental health and substance abuse care, there are important steps Congress can take now to address this challenge.”
Mental health. The Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act, which has already passed in the House of Representatives, would reauthorize several federal mental health treatment and recovery programs and promote the integration of behavioral and primary health care, according to the letter. The Act is a “bipartisan solution that will help bring lifesaving care to people in need in communities around the country.”
Telehealth. The groups also believe that Congress should extend the flexibility for HSA-eligible HDHPs to offer telehealth services predeductible as part of a year-end package. “Employers play a key role in realizing the full potential of telehealth to expand access to behavioral and mental health care,” said the letter. “There is bipartisan, bicameral support for this policy (H.R. 5981/S. 1704). If this flexibility, which expires December 31, 2022, is not extended before the year ends, employers would be required to charge employees more to access virtual mental health care they so vitally need, hampering the efforts of employers and policymakers to address the nation’s mental health crisis.”
In November 2021, the American Benefits Council submitted a letter to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee that outlined 15 policy recommendations for strengthening the mental health workforce; increasing integration, coordination and access to care; ensuring parity; expanding telehealth; and improving access for children and young people.
“Since the onset of the pandemic – and, in many cases, well before – employers have devoted substantial attention and resources toward expanding access to mental and behavioral health care,” American Benefits Council Senior Vice President, Health Policy, Ilyse Schuman said. “While public policy has made strides in facilitating these efforts over the past two years, great challenges still remain…Employer-sponsored health coverage played a critical role in combating the mental health crisis during the pandemic, and employers will be on the front lines of the battle in the years ahead.”
An informal survey of large employers conducted by the Council highlights the commitment of employers to helping their employees through the pandemic and their focus on expanding access to behavioral health and telehealth in doing so. 87% of respondents said that supporting and/or expanding access to mental health care for employees is a top priority for their organization.
The Council’s letter described ongoing employer action and recommendations in this area:
“Employer-sponsored health coverage played a critical role in combating the mental health crisis during the pandemic, and – with the proper support from lawmakers – employers can lead the way in improving access to quality, affordable behavioral health care beyond the pandemic as well,” stated Schuman.
Visit ASE’s Wellness Resources page for resources to support mental health in the workplace.
Sources: CCH; American Benefits Council