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The impact of a workforce mental health program on employer medical plan spend: An application of cost efficiency measurement for mental health care

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Mental health issues often result in significant impairment and financial challenges, both at home and in the workplace. Solutions vary widely in their usage and cost-effectiveness. This study presents an analysis of medical and prescription drug spending and utilization data for the employees of 4 companies who were eligible for an evidence-based workforce mental health program (WMHP). A variation of coarsened exact matching paired WMHP users to nonusers, based on demographics, location, and medical factors. Individuals included 2791 pairs of members whose medical claims were incurred in 2018 and 3883 pairs with claims in 2019. Using a cost efficiency measurement process, mean cost and utilization per person per year (PPPY) were compared. WMHP users had lower medical (−$2295 in 2018; −$2304 in 2019) and prescription drug spending (−$295 in 2018; −$312 in 2019). Over half of the cost reduction (−$1252 in 2018; −$1211 in 2019) resulted from shifting therapy services from the medical benefit to WMHP. WMHP users attended about 12 sessions PPPY, whereas the comparison group of nonusers attended about 7 mental health office visits PPPY under the medical benefit. WMHP users had more mental health-related visits in both years, but had fewer visits on the medical plan, and fewer emergency department visits for mental health than comparison group members. These results provide evidence that high-quality, evidence-based mental health services can reduce total expenditures and change utilization patterns. Evidence-based WMHP may represent a prudent investment for employers in providing mental health care to employees.

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