The Case for Behavioral and Physical Health Integration

Mercer’s Dr. Mary Kay O’Neill is featured in this recent article for her work chairing a Bree Collaborative workgroup focused on drafting recommendations to help the Washington State Health Care Authority integrate behavioral and physical health by 2020. Through her work as a rehab physician, Dr. O’Neill is acutely aware of the negative implications of ignoring behavioral health problems when treating a physical condition. For employers, the result is sicker employees with higher costs, increased absenteeism, and decreased productivity. The workgroup’s report sets forth eight common elements that outline a minimum standard of integration. The group also set forth recommendations specific stakeholder groups can take to achieve integration. For employers, those recommendations are:

  • When designing benefits, work to eliminate inadvertent barriers to behavioral healthcare services and integrating care for employees including equalizing benefit structures for behavioral health and physical healthcare.
  • If an employee assistance program is offered, promote employee understanding of behavioral health benefits.
  • Include behavioral health-related components in employee wellness programs (e.g. stress and anxiety reduction, interventions around alcohol consumption).

Need more convincing? According to Mary Kay, “The bottom line is that if you are an employer and you ignore behavioral health needs, you will have sicker employees and that will cost you two to five times just on the medical side. That does not include productivity at work.” Good reason to pay attention to this.

Tracy Watts
by Tracy Watts

Senior Partner, National Leader for U.S. Health Policy

Register for Mercer US Health News to receive weekly e-mail updates.