Employers Work to Expand Care for Mental Health & Substance Use Disorders

James Gelfand testifies before the House Committee on Education and Labor

Washington, DC – The ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC) today testified before the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor at a hearing titled “Meeting the Moment: Improving Access to Behavioral and Mental Health Care.”

James Gelfand, Senior Vice President for Health Policy, testified on behalf of ERIC and its large employer member companies. His testimony focused on how the pandemic has impacted employers’ ability to provide workforce benefits that address mental and behavioral health issues –including opioids mitigation – and how employers have pivoted to telehealth for treatment and prevention.

“Employers have seen an increasing need for mental and behavioral health care – including opioid addiction – among employees and their families, especially with the arrival of COVID-19, and have worked to address the challenges patients face. They have innovated many new programs and strategies to increase access to mental health providers and implemented policies to stop the opioid crisis. Congress can help with policies that advance telehealth and provide flexibility for employer plans,” said James Gelfand, Senior Vice President of Health Policy, ERIC.

Some of those new employer actions include:

  • Limiting prescription drug fills
  • Scrutinizing the facilities and providers in their networks
  • Offering new, virtual programs to help employees get counseling and care
  • Hiring vendors specifically to enhance and manage mental and behavioral health benefits
  • Implementing crisis hotlines, mindfulness campaigns, and sleep management programs
  • Strengthening employee assistance programs
  • Enhancing paid time off

Many employers expanded their telehealth benefits to include free telemedicine for patients, including those in high-deductible plans. They offered telehealth benefits to part-time workers and others who were not eligible for full benefits. Employers who have worksite health centers went virtual, offering more mental and behavioral health options to employees.

Still, ERIC believes there is more to be done and provided the Committee with a list of actions lawmakers could take to make an immediate and positive impact on the benefits employers can provide. Among those actions, ERIC encouraged the Committee to promote telehealth interstate provider license reciprocity, especially for ERISA plans. This would instantly improve access to mental health providers for tens of millions of Americans. Lawmakers could start the process today by passing the TREAT Act and then take steps to make it a permanent policy.

ERIC also urged the Committee to allow employers to offer telehealth benefits to all of their employees and fix the rules in high-deductible health plans for good. To help workers and families with high deductible health plan coverage, ERIC’s testimony requested that lawmakers permanently allow 1st-dollar coverage of telehealth and add coverage of worksite health clinics – both of which, generally, an employee must pay their full deductible before their benefits can be subsidized. Additionally, ERIC promoted driving greater adoption of value-based payments and the modernization of high deductible health plans and dependent care flexible spending account rules to improve access to mental and behavioral health care.

ERIC cautioned lawmakers to be wary of counterproductive penalties and mandates that would increase costs without improving access or care for employees, retirees, and their families. Any legislation should ensure that patients are not saddled with higher premiums, lower value networks, or the loss of quality, accessibility, and safety within their plans.

“Employers are acutely aware of the challenges patients face in accessing quality, affordable mental and behavioral health, and are committed to improving this dynamic for patients,  demonstrating through innovation and investment that employers can be part of the solution. On behalf of its exclusive large employer membership, ERIC is committed to working with Congress to meaningfully improve access to mental health for employees, their families, and retirees. ERIC is confident this can be done without costly new mandates and penalty regimes by leveraging bipartisan solutions and encouraging innovation,” said Gelfand.

Click here to read ERIC’s full written testimony.

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All media inquiries to The ERISA Industry Committee should be directed to:

Kelly Broadway, 202.627.1918, kbroadway@eric.org

About The ERISA Industry Committee
ERIC is a national advocacy organization that exclusively represents large employers that provide health, retirement, paid leave, and other benefits to their nationwide workforces. With member companies that are leaders in every sector of the economy, ERIC advocates on the federal, state, and local levels for policies that promote flexibility and uniformity in the administration of their employee benefit plans.