Mental Health Conditions Projected to Be a Significant Factor of Employer-Sponsored Healthcare Benefit Costs, Survey Finds

November 25, 2019
Matthew Gavidia
Matthew Gavidia

Over the next 5 years, mental health conditions are expected to become 1 of the most significant factors attributed to employer-sponsored healthcare benefit costs worldwide, according to survey findings.

Over the next 5 years, mental health conditions are expected to become 1 of the most significant factors attributed to employer-sponsored healthcare benefit costs worldwide, according to a survey of medical insurers by Willis Towers Watson.

The survey, titled “The 2020 Global Medical Trends Survey,” polled a global network of 296 insurers in 79 countries and weighted the results using gross domestic product per capita. Respondents answered questions based on anticipated trends in medical care and significant factors shown by cost and incidence.

According to the survey, healthcare costs will continue their upward trend globally, as they grew from a projected 6.7% increase in 2019 to 6.8% in 2020. While this global trend increase may not surprise many, dramatic rises in medical care costs in areas such as the Middle East and Africa (8.5% to 9.3%), when compared with decreases in Latin American (12.2% to 11.7%), represent a cause for concern.

For specific conditions affecting healthcare benefit costs, cancer (83%), cardiovascular diseases (55%), and musculoskeletal/connective tissue conditions (46%) were selected as the top 3 conditions by cost and incidence that respondents project to remain for the next 5 years. However, as the authors note, a growing trend in 2019, the 2020 report confirms that mental and behavioral disorders will become increasingly significant.

For the same question regarding the top 3 projected conditions by cost and incidence, 27% of health insurers predicted that mental and behavioral conditions will be among the top 3 most common conditions, and 26% predict they will be among the 3 most expensive. “This will bring uncertainty and challenge existing models of healthcare,” said the authors. As disparities in access to behavioral healthcare were shown to be a worsening issue in the US, current mechanisms for treating mental health conditions or addiction will be warranted based on projections by insurers.

Amid this growing trend, the authors regarded mental disorders as the focus of this year’s survey, whereas diabetes was chosen as the focus of the 2019 report. The authors noted that, unlike diabetes, many mental health conditions can be hard to define. “An untreated mental health condition can jeopardize the life of the sufferer; cause significant harm to society, as addiction can be part of a comorbidity; and, in the case of conditions such as stress, result in ongoing health conditions, which can be expensive,” said the authors.

The survey highlighted the prevalence of mental health disorders in workforces globally, as nearly 3 in 10 employees suffer from severe stress, anxiety, or depression. Additionally, the effect of these disorders expand beyond solely the employee as companies are affected by worsening production:

  • Global economic losses related to mental health disorders between 2011 and 2030 are estimated to total $16.3 trillion, comparable to those of cardiovascular diseases and higher than cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes.
  • Employees who are in the poorest health report more than double the absences, more than 25% higher presenteeism than other colleagues, are more than twice as likely to be disengaged from their jobs, and are 3 times as likely to experience high stress.
  • In many developed countries, 35% to 45% of absenteeism from work is due to mental health problems.

To address mental health concerns, the authors provided advice to employers, which aimed at promoting mental health discussions, developing communication and engagement strategies based on exhibited region/country employee preferences, and remaining aware of the drivers behind disorders such as stress.

“All employers should also focus on broader organizational factors such as creating an inclusive culture, reducing stigma, thinking about the work environment, and policies that impact mental health,” said the study authors.