Tag Archives: Mental Health

The impact of depression treatment persistence on total healthcare costs

Depression is a prevalent and costly disorder. Existing research has shown that many patients suffering from behavioral health conditions, including depression, receive inadequate or no treatment for these disorders. Inadequate treatment often occurs when patients discontinue their prescribed courses of treatment.

The purpose of this research report is to attempt to quantify the impact of depression treatment persistence on post-treatment healthcare costs. Is persistent treatment associated with future healthcare cost savings? Do patients who receive more depression treatment or continue treatment have lower total healthcare cost growth post-treatment than those who received less treatment or discontinued treatment? We conducted a study from a large national medical claims database and compared the relative change in total healthcare costs from the pre-treatment period to the post-treatment period by cohort.

Our results suggest that there is a relationship between persistent treatment for depression and future healthcare cost trend reductions for certain treatment paths and patient cohorts. We conclude with a discussion of the results and of suggestions for future research on this topic.

Read the full report here.

The other major reform law

National Underwriter looks at “the other major reform law”—namely the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). Here’s an excerpt from their coverage of last week’s Society of Actuaries meeting:

Michael Leyburn Halford and Stephen Melek, speakers from Milliman Inc., Seattle, gave an MHPAEA update presentation in Boston, at the Society of Actuaries’ SOA2011 Health Meeting.

Like an earlier 1996 federal mental health parity law, the MHPAEA, which was enacted in 2008, affects only employers that choose to offer behavioral benefits, and requires those employers to offer parity between the benefits rules for the behavioral conditions they choose to cover and the benefits rules for “subtantially all” of the general medical conditions they cover. Unlike the earlier law, the MHPAEA imposes tough, detailed coverage parity rules. A plan must offer parity for each classification of benefit.

If, for example, a plan provides unlimited coverage for medically necessary inpatient care for heart attacks, and the plan chooses to cover treatment for depression, the plan must offer unlimited coverage for medically necessary inpatient care for depression.

Plans that violate the MHPAEA parity requirements could face fines of up to $100 per enrollee per day, Halford and Melek report in a written copy of their presentation posted on the SOA website, at http://www.soa.org.

Co-payment levels, coinsurance levels, deductibles, annual visit limits and episode visit limits must be the same for any behavioral health benefits provided as they are for substantially all of the general medical benefits provided, Halford and Melek say.

Milliman has found that plan non-compliance rates for mental illnesses known to be biologically based range from 0% for deductibles for in-network inpatient care to 7% for co-payments for in-network outpatient care.

For other types of behavioral health problems, non-compliance rates range close to 9% for day limits and visit limits, according to Milliman data.

What role will EAPs play in a mental health parity environment?

The Wall Street Journal today offers a look at the cost of mental health parity and the role that employee assistance plans (EAPs) may play. These plans are in some cases being optimized to work alongside mental healthcare, with particular focus on the transition from one to the other. Note this excerpt from a recent case study:

…the employer also determined that many employees were not taking full advantage of the resources available to them, due to a lack of integration between the two vendors. In this case, the EAP was responsible for the first seven days of mental health care, with the health plan covering services after that. The employer had the two vendors develop detailed transition plans to ensure that employees would continue to have assistance when the EAP’s services ceased and the health plan’s responsibility began.

Employers are trying to mimimize any cost impact from parity. Here is an excerpt from the WSJ article:

It’s unclear just how costly mental-health parity will be for companies to provide. A 2007 actuarial analysis conducted by consulting firm Milliman Inc. suggested that costs under parity for employers may increase 0.6%, or $2.40 a month for each employee in 2008 dollars. A 2007 Congressional Budget Office study estimated that premiums would rise by an average of 0.4%.

For more insight on this topic, read the latest white paper by Steve Melek about preparing for mental health parity. Here is Melek’s Congressional testimony, which includes the 2007 results.

Preparing for Parity

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and earlier this month Milliman Principal Steve Melek released a new white paper, “Preparing for Parity,” which addresses some of the key issues for insurers as they look to implement the new mental health parity requirement. The requirement could have cost and business benefits for employers:

Isn’t this a great opportunity to change for the better? An investment in more effective behavioral healthcare treatment is an opportunity to improve not only mental health but also physical health in our insured populations. Such health improvements can lead not only to lower healthcare costs, but improved productivity among employees.

-Steve Melek

Mental health and the ER

A report out of Texas indicates that nine patients in the Austin area accounted for 2678 emergency room visits at a cost of $3 million during the past six years. The causes were not always certain, though seven of the nine have a mental health diagnosis. One doctor at least thinks these diagnoses explain some of the ER visits.

Dr. Christopher Ziebell of University Medical Center at Brackenridge sees many people in the ER who aren’t having emergencies. With mental illness, he said, ‘a lot of anxiety manifests as chest pain.’

We know that mental health, when not treated properly, can be quite expensive. Mental health parity expert Steve Melek has testified before Congress and conducted research on how mental health can pair with other chronic conditions in highly-expensive comorbidities. The recent passage of mental health parity legislation may help mend fractures in care among the insured. But confronting this problem among the uninsured remains a thorny issue.