This finding in a new report on Minnesota’s health care outcomes is heartbreaking: Just 8 percent of adults who seek medical care for depression — one of the most common mental illnesses — will be in remission at six months.
The situation is even grimmer when looking at past years’ findings from the nonprofit Minnesota Community Measurement (MCM) group, which gathers and reports information on health care quality, cost and patient experience to drive state improvement. The 8 percent remission figure hasn’t changed in the last three years, according to MCM’s latest report, which came out last week. That’s shocking in a state that’s home to world-class medical providers.
The imperative to do better is both moral and economic, given that the loss of productivity attributed to depression is estimated at over $23 billion a year nationally. That’s why a respected business organization — the Minnesota Health Action Group — merits praise for stepping up to improve mental health care in the state.
The group’s membership roster is a who’s who of Minnesota companies and includes Target Corp., Thrivent Financial and 3M. That alone gives it a formidable bully pulpit to call attention to the dismal depression outcomes and other findings highlighted in the MCM report.
But the group’s influence goes far beyond that. The reason is that employment is the main way that people access health insurance here and elsewhere. Employer-sponsored plans cover about 53 percent of Minnesotans, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. What that means is that big companies are big purchasers of health care, allowing them to demand accountability and improvement from health plans and medical providers.
A week ago, the Minnesota Health Action Group’s leaders made it clear that they intend to do exactly that on mental health care. After months of careful study and consulting with experts, they have provided a thoughtful guide for employers on how to advance mental health in the workplace.
Among the suggestions: reviewing health coverage for benefit disparities between physical and mental conditions. While a 2008 federal law mandates parity between the two, enforcement unfortunately varies. The reality, according to the Health Action Group’s report, is that “work remains to be done to fulfill the promise of real parity.” For example, the shortage of mental health providers and beds may mean that employees or dependents wait for care longer than those with different medical conditions.
The report also compiled a helpful checklist for employers to strengthen mental health coverage. Strategies include: requiring greater measurement and reporting on these illnesses, ensuring that covered services and drugs keep up with evolving best practices and treatments, and having appointments available quickly for those requiring urgent care.
In addition, the report makes it clear that employers need to communicate their commitment to mental health and work to reduce the stigma that still prevents some from getting needed care.
The state’s mental health advocates understandably applauded the Health Action Group’s effort. This could “have an incredibly positive impact on our mental health system,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “We’ve always said our system is held up by three legs — private insurance, public insurance and grants. Private insurance must do more — must cover the very treatment people need to get better — and push for better outcomes with their health care dollars.”
The Health Action Group’s work comes on the heels of another timely employer-led health initiative. This fall, the Minnesota Business Partnership teamed up with the Minnesota Department of Health to develop an opioid “tool kit” to help companies prepare for overdoses in the workplace and encourage treatment.
The resources and clout these groups bring are invaluable in addressing these pressing public health issues. Hopefully, other states’ business communities will follow Minnesota’s admirable lead.