Drive Down Costs by Ramping Up Behavioral Health

A series on addressing chronic conditions through mental health care to improve outcomes and the bottom line

The effects—and downstream costs—resulting from co-occurring chronic physical and mental health conditions are staggering. For example:

Perhaps most telling, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 90% of the $3.8T the U.S. spends on healthcare every year involves people with chronic and mental health conditions. 

Here’s the problem: Collective attempts to treat individuals’ chronic physical conditions tend to treat only their physical symptoms—the physical half of their being. By failing to treat their mental health conditions with equal emphasis, health plans historically have struggled to achieve the desired clinical and financial outcomes. When health plans instead care for the whole person—emphasizing mental wellness as much as physical wellness—costs come down and outcomes go up.

The connection is strong, and growing

The link between chronic physical conditions, mental wellness and costs is not a theoretical conversation. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Research suggests that people who have depression and another medical illness tend to have more severe symptoms of both illnesses. They may have more difficulty adapting to their medical condition, and they may have higher medical costs than those who do not have both depression and a medical illness.”  

Even before COVID-19, nearly 25% of adults with a mental illness reported their treatment needs are not being met—a number that hasn’t declined since 2011. That number is likely to rise substantially, too, since adults who reported anxiety and depression symptoms during the pandemic skyrocketed from 11% to 41%. And the impact on costs is real: Consider that one study found that overall medical costs decreased by 17% when people with diagnosed mental health disorders received active behavioral health treatment. By contrast, control groups without behavioral health treatment saw costs increase an average of 12.3%.

Deliver holistic care, see measurable results

Chronic conditions are a leading driver of healthcare costs and health plans feel their impact on their balance sheets.  In the upcoming series, we will address common chronic conditions, discuss how mental health challenges impact their treatment, and show how health plans that proactively address the mental health of their members can enhance care quality and achieve bottom-line savings as a result. 


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