Lightening the mental load for employees living with chronic conditions
Moderator: Gabrielle Boisvert, Vice President, Solution Strategy, Teladoc Health
April Bettencourt, Vice President, Global Employee Benefits, Human Resources, VSP Vision
Barry Fitzpatrick, Vice President Client Service, Holmes Murphy & Associates
Currently, 147M Americans are living with a chronic condition and 90% of the national $4.1T that is spent annually in healthcare is spent on individuals who are living with a chronic condition and a mental health condition. Gabrielle Boisvert, VP, Solution Strategy, Teladoc Health joined April Bettencourt, VP, Global Employee Benefits, Human Resources, VSP Vision and Barry Fitzpatrick, VP Client Service, Holmes Murphy & Associates at Forum 2023 to learn more about how living with a chronic condition can impact one’s mental health, as well as some strategies employers can put into place to help those living with these conditions.
April Bettencourt said that VSP Vision initially rolled out wellness programs to help their employees get healthy, which included things like sit/stand desks and workout sessions on-site. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Because people were now at home and out of their normal routine, many people with chronic conditions experienced depression or anxiety. For Barry Fitzpatrick fostering engagement is key. “Once you get some engagement, you can really snowball that engagement into bringing people into new programs and getting them involved…then having the right programs and having a path for them to navigate to the solutions that are part of your overall program is enormously important.” He adds that comorbidities are where there is a lot of spend and moving from that sort of point solution view which is what a lot of employer programs are built around, to “not only looking at what your highest cost spend is today, but where your spend is trending and what things are in the future which will impact your overall cost”. It’s important to look at these trends while building a program so that once the employee is engaged, they can step into that next program without having any barriers to that experience. April Bettencourt adds that it’s also important to coordinate and integrate care amongst all partners, including the medical plan, EAP partnership, or various vendor solutions. It’s critical to have one central place for employees to go when seeking help because it makes it simple for them to find the help they need when they need it and creates a consistent and better experience. Since bringing on mental health solutions, April Bettencourt said VSP Vision has seen a decrease in employees’ blood sugar and blood pressure, a “What we’ve heard from employees is that it has really helped them…it’s helped them be more engaged and accountable” she adds. She also said, “it’s vital to get the word out about how important mental health really is, trying to remove any kind of stigma or judgement…it’s a health condition, that’s truly what it is and people everywhere deal with it, every day.” Barry Fitzpatrick agreed and added “thinking through an element of how you can create an environment within your organization…to enable those conversations.” “The environment, the culture is going to drive the individual’s participation as much as the end solution that they can engage with.”
However, it’s not enough to just put the program in place and expect employees to enroll and engage in it. Organizations must implement a communication strategy that works for their employees. Barry Fitzpatrick says, “it comes down to identifying the best opportunities to communicate the programs you have and establishing communication channels”, he adds “having the ability to develop a program that isn’t a one size fits all communication effort is hugely important to get the results”. For instance, the way you communicate a program to one employee who understands their diabetes diagnosis, what’s needed to control it, who only needs a little support is much different than how you’d communicate to an employee who has been newly diagnosed and whose levels are spiking out of control. Barry Fitzpatrick emphasized the importance of looking at and identifying the data, the prevalence of the condition and the progression of the disease to effectively communicate the program to different employees. April Bettencourt added that they have seen advantages to bringing in business resource groups and executive leaders to not only participate but get the word out about the programs and help to destigmatize the negative connotations around
So, when looking to implement these types of programs, remember to look at the data – where’s the spend been? What are the categories driving population health? Then look at where you’re trending as well, so you’re not only thinking about where the company has been and where it is today, but “having a program in place that will stem to the future trend is hugely important in building a benefits strategy” Barry Fitzpatrick says. He also adds “ensuring that you’re maintaining the availability and access, creating a positive environment and having a financially reasonable equation as it relates to their [the employee’s] cost share.”