A recent study reveals a remarkable surge of over 50 per cent in spending on mental health services for individuals covered by private health insurance in the United States since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This financial allocation has not only sustained its growth trajectory but has also persisted even as the utilization of telehealth services has stabilized.
Published in the JAMA Health Forum journal, the study highlights a 53 per cent upswing in spending on mental health services from March 2020 to August 2022 among a substantial cohort of individuals possessing employer-provided insurance.
Jonathan Cantor, the study’s lead author and a policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization, commented, “If heightened utilization of health services leads to increased healthcare spending, insurers might begin to challenge the new status quo.”
To analyze the trends in mental health services subsequent to the pandemic’s onset, the researchers scrutinized claims data from approximately 7 million adults covered by private insurance, spanning from January 2019 to August 2022.
22 per cent surge in the utilization of mental health services
The investigation focused on conditions such as anxiety disorders, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and PTSD. During the acute phase of the pandemic (March 2020 to December 2020), in-person mental health services observed a 40 per cent decline, while tele-mental health services witnessed a tenfold increase compared to the preceding year.
The study underscores an overall 22 per cent surge in the utilization of mental health services during the examined period.
Notably, the utilization of tele-mental health services stabilized at approximately ten times the pre-pandemic levels during the post-acute phase (December 2020 to August 2022). In contrast, in-person mental health services exhibited a monthly growth rate of 2.2 per cent during the same timeframe.
By August 2022, in-person mental health services had rebounded to 80 per cent of their pre-pandemic levels. Collectively, mental health service utilization in August 2022 surpassed pre-pandemic levels by nearly 39 per cent.
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The post-pandemic phase observed an average monthly spending rate exceeding $3.5 million per 10,000 beneficiaries, in contrast to approximately $2.3 million during the pre-pandemic era, according to the study’s findings.
Jonathan Cantor noted, “The shifts triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic have prompted a substantial expansion in the utilization of mental health services among adults covered by employer-based health insurance.” He also added, “The trajectory of this trend, whether it will endure or revert to pre-pandemic levels, remains uncertain.”