Risk and risk management have evolved as a result of COVID-19, forcing employers to consider a new approach for many emerging issues. Two primary health-related risks that employers must address are chronic conditions and mental health.
COVID-19 presents new challenges and risks for chronic conditions. The CDC conducted a study which reported that as of June 30[RL1] , 40.9% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care due to concerns about COVID-19. Further:
- Among those who avoided any type of medical care, 54.7% had two or more selected underlying medical conditions, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
- Among those who avoided only urgent or emergency care, 22.7% had two or more selected underlying conditions.
As the pandemic continues and people are avoiding care or are being challenged by access to care, there is potential for the severity of chronic conditions to escalate and for new illnesses/diseases to go undiagnosed and untreated.
Therefore, it’s critical for employers to communicate with their employees as to what services are available (e.g., telehealth/telemedicine) through the medical plan and how important it is that they not delay care. While you likely communicated all of your benefits offerings through open enrollment and other channels and you may feel like that message is worn out, the reality is that, typically, unless the information is relevant to the employee at the time it's provided, it's often not retained. So, make sure you build out a communication strategy that addresses COVID, chronic conditions and acute conditions, and also bridges the entire health care spectrum. In doing so, it's likely you will address at least one issue that resonates with each of your plan members.
Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are chronic conditions; however, we are addressing them separately. While there are a wide variety of resources to treat these conditions, mental health can deteriorate without a consistent approach, causing negative outcomes for individuals and employers.
COVID-19 quickly escalated the already existing struggle for work-life balance, which poses increased challenges to many with mental health conditions. When you’re working from home, it can be difficult to draw boundaries between work and home life. Add to that many who instantly became caregivers, teachers and the like on top of working a job, and that’s a recipe for extreme stress. And then there are those who cannot work from home and as a result lost their jobs or had reduced hours – again, this is extremely stressful. All of these situations can escalate or bring on mental health conditions.
There has been an uptick in the use of mental health medications – approximately a 5% increase in antidepressants and 10% in anti-anxiety medications – since the stay-at-home orders and social distancing protocols went into effect in March/April. Further, poor mental health can have a direct negative impact on physical health, and vice versa.
All of this can not only decrease employee wellbeing but also their productivity, engagement and morale. So companies who do not address these issues will see negative impacts on their operations, their health plans and, possibly, their bottom lines.
Therefore, as discussed above in regards to chronic health conditions, employers must ensure that they have a solid communication plan to inform employees of the benefits and resources available to address mental health conditions (e.g., Employee Assistance Program, virtual counseling, etc.), and make these resources easily yet confidentially available.