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Selecting the Right Mental Health Benefits for Your Company

By Alliant Employee Benefits / July 09, 2024

Increasingly, employers are concluding that their existing benefits plans aren’t meeting the mental health needs of employees and their families.

They see that engagement with employee assistance programs (EAP) is low. When they investigate further, they find that employees struggle with a variety of barriers to getting the care they need, from an inability to find an in-network therapist or psychiatrist to high copays and deductibles to a company culture that frowns on taking time off to address such challenges.

With rates of mental illness still near the record highs reached in the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are taking action to ensure that their members get the care they need. Most commonly, that takes the form of one or more of these three strategies:

1. Adjusting Medical Coverage

The terms of a medical insurance plan can significantly impact how easy and affordable it is for members to get mental health care. These adjustments can make getting care easier:

  • Reducing or eliminating copays for mental health
  • Ensuring access to a carrier’s largest provider network
  • Eliminating additional copays and deductibles for out-of-network providers
  • Covering video and text-based therapy sessions 

Note: It’s imperative to seek knowledgeable advice to ensure that any plan change is consistent with the legal requirements governing mental health parity.


2. Expanding EAP and Other Mental Health Services

In the traditional EAP model, the initial point of contact has typically been a telephone-based intake coordinator who refers individuals to a network of in-person therapists. While the traditional EAP model now includes some digital components, it has not kept up with the shift towards more remote work, and the technology has not advanced as much as newer digital health providers. Today, many people prefer to communicate through apps, text messages, and online platforms. In today's environment, relying on in-person therapy presents challenges due to significant shortages of providers, especially in mental health care.

A growing number of vendors offer new approaches for EAPs and other behavioral health services. Many of these approaches involve sophisticated technology. Some prioritize providing quick assistance for life stress through mindfulness training and short-term counseling, while others concentrate on more extensive clinical treatments. Services include:

  • Multiple treatment modalities. Therapy over video and text. Some also offer on-site treatment at workplaces.
  • Expanded provider networks. Some vendors have recruiting and compensation programs for therapists that enable them to offer greater availability than their insurance carrier’s network(s). This model of direct contracting can help overcome the challenge of finding a therapist who accepts traditional insurance.
  • Digital tools. Access to self-help information, guided meditations, or interactive programs such as cognitive behavioral therapy, often through smartphone apps. A wide array of digital options can enhance accessibility for more people by overcoming barriers such as transportation, cost, racial/ethnic disparities, language barriers, and other social determinants of health (SDOH).
  • Help with issues not addressed by traditional therapy. Certified coaching and digital tools in areas such as stress, sleep, parenting, relationships, and other personal development topics.

These programs can also help employers communicate with members, train managers, and provide an on-site response to traumatic incidents such as natural disasters or on-site violence. Some also offer systems to evaluate the quality of the therapy provided and track clinical outcomes.

The price tag (generally per employee per month), of course, rises with the depth of the offering and the number of therapy sessions each member is entitled to. A traditional EAP is the least expensive option, while an EAP with advanced digital tools costs more. The highest cost option includes programs with expanded provider networks and coaching, although in some cases, the employer's medical plan can cover the cost of therapy provided by these services.


3. Supporting Mental Health Beyond Benefits

In the end, though, an extensive mental health benefits program is of little value if employees can’t or won’t take advantage of it. It is critical for employers to communicate regularly with employees about the importance of mental health care and mitigate any lingering stigma that may be keeping employees from getting the help they need.

Companies can also explore their policies and culture to remove any explicit or implicit barriers to care. These areas deserve particular attention:

  • Manager training. Programs like Mental Health First Aid can help managers identify and support employees facing behavioral and emotional issues. Training can also help leaders spot ways in which their actions and the company culture have discouraged employees from discussing their mental health challenges.
  • Time-off policies. Strict limits on paid time off can prevent employees from seeking help or assisting family members with mental health issues. Many employers are adding more scheduling flexibility to allow for mental health days, bereavement leave, and the like.
  • Family outreach. Employees are often burdened by family members' mental health challenges. Companies can regularly communicate available resources via mailings to employees at home and emails and texts to enrolled adult dependents.

When building or enhancing a benefits program, it’s also important to consider options that address the specific needs of certain employee groups. Some locations, for example, may require services in Spanish, Mandarin, or another language. Workers who spend a lot of time on the road may need to be able to access treatment through their mobile devices.

Companies that offer a comprehensive array of mental health services to their members will likely see a return on that investment beyond improvements in productivity and lower healthcare costs. By demonstrating an understanding of the real-life stresses that employees and their families are facing—and by providing solutions that can ease those burdens—they will not only strengthen employee engagement and retention but also foster a more positive and supportive work environment.


Additional Resources

Alliant specializes in guiding companies to create highly effective and efficient mental health plans. We provide valuable insights by conducting thorough analyses of existing benefits to pinpoint gaps and assess the potential impact of changes. Leveraging our deep relationships with vendors offering EAPs and supplemental mental health services, we assist in identifying and implementing the most suitable program for each company's specific needs. Tell us how we can help.


This article is the third in Alliant's three-part series to help employers understand and respond to the rise of mental and emotional health issues faced by their plan members.


See also:
The Case for Investing in Mental and Emotional Health Benefits


How to Meet Your Employees' Mental Health Benefit Needs


Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance. This document is provided on an “as is” basis without any warranty of any kind. Alliant Insurance Services disclaims any liability for any loss or damage from reliance on this document.