Expert view: insurers put mental health conditions on a par with physical health

Every year, employers are investing more to promote good physical and mental health for their employees. While previously the physical health of employees was the primary focus, with organisations offering, for example, subsidised gym membership and holding ‘keep active’ campaigns, things have changed in the last few years.

Expert view: insurers put mental health conditions on a par with physical health

We have experienced a revolution in how employers are thinking about the mental health and wellbeing of their staff.

There is a good reason for this rebalancing. In 2017, the Centre for Mental Health found that mental health problems in the UK workforce cost employers almost £35 billion the previous year. Almost a third of that cost was down to sickness absence.

It is in this context that many employers are turning to providers of group income protection insurance. It allows them to offer the support services their employees need.

How are insurers dealing with this change? Their products are evolving to meet the needs of a modern workforce. Group income protection products make no distinction between illnesses that are physical or caused by a mental health condition. The only criterion to meet for a claim is one’s inability to work. Group income protection products are also not underwritten meaning all employees benefit from the product regardless of their medical history or pre-existing conditions.

The ability to claim if an employee is unable to work is only one of the key benefits. Group income protection insurance often also includes provision of employee assistance programmes (EAPs). These offer vital sources of support for employees during times of anxiety, depression or if experiencing other mental health conditions. They can help employees with their concerns or provide access to counselling, for example.

Industry body, Group Risk Development (GRiD) recently found that group income protection insurers oversaw more than 75,000 interactions with employees through services such as EAPs or fast-track access to counselling. Each interaction has the potential to avert a more serious illness, or better yet, prevent absence from work in the first place.

While spotting mental health concerns early on and providing prompt support can make a huge difference, sometimes a person’s condition means they are unable to work for a considerable period of time.

In these cases, group income protection insurers provide financial help as well as swift access to dedicated medical professionals or psychiatric case advisers who then determine the best treatment pathway. These professionals maintain regular contact to ensure that an employee is receiving the care they need.

To illustrate, of the almost 5,500 group income protection claims that went into payment during 2017, just over 2,000 customers were helped by their insurer to make a full return to work within 12 months (the other customers continued to receive financial and other help).

Over the past few years, insurers have helped their employer customers place mental health higher on the work agenda. Income protection products are critical to this – they work in the interest of all employees putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health and making a valuable contribution to the wellbeing of people up and down the UK.

The author is Dr Yvonne Braun, Director of Policy, Long-Term Savings and Protection, Association of British Insurers (ABI).

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