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June 23, 2020

New Mental Health Benefits Prove Their Worth During Pandemic

By Josh Smith

At Portico, we’re called by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to do what some consider impossible — rein in the cost of health benefits, while investing in well-being.

At Portico, we’re called by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to do what some consider impossible — rein in the cost of health benefits, while investing in well-being.  Since I joined the organization three years ago, my team and I have been on the hunt for innovative, technology-based health benefits to help employees live well and access quality, affordable care more easily and at lower cost.

We know that the populations we serve face unique challenges that take a toll on mental health. Many are caregivers by profession who must tend to their own emotional well-being to effectively care for others. To help us tailor health care to meet our members’ needs, last year, we launched a data-driven analysis of our mental health benefit use and emotional well-being.  The analysis revealed higher-than-average Employee Assistance Program (EAP) use over the last few years and high self-reported levels of anxiety and depression. The data also showed individuals on our plan accessed medical care for mental health conditions more than they had before. We know that mental health and physical health are fundamentally linked; our data supported that physical health has an impact on mental health and mental health has an impact on physical health.

We saw an opportunity to leverage data and learnings from our research to make meaningful, cost-effective plan changes, and we introduced two new online benefits designed to empower people to care for their mental health needs, at no added cost to them. We launched:

  • Being by The Big Know: A holistic-health learning platform that features short, but powerful video courses taught by best-selling authors and leading health researchers.
  • Learn to Live: A clinically-validated cognitive behavioral learning program that has proven results on five treatment tracks: depression, anxiety, sleep, stress/worry, and substance abuse.

We saw great usage rates right from the start. Plan participants visited the Being academy an average of 42 minutes at a time— that’s nearly 15 minutes longer than the average visit to The Big Know. Over one hundred employees signed up for Learn to Live in the first two months.

What I didn’t anticipate was the critical role these new benefits would play during COVID-19. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on everyone’s emotional health. Some people are still hard at work on the front lines in care facilities. Others are serving from home. And others have been professionally sidelined. COVID-19 has changed the way we live, work, connect, worship, and care for our loved ones, which creates new levels of stress, anxiety, grief, and depression.

In late May, Portico sent an email to employees on our plan, inviting them to make use of our benefits to help cope with COVID-19. Participation numbers in our new programs jumped dramatically. The increase was a strong affirmation that we are meeting the needs of those on our plans. I am deeply grateful that our commitment to well-being continues to support our community during these unprecedented times. If you’d like to learn more, I invite you to Contact Us, and/or read the case study.

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Josh Smith

Josh is a strategic and innovative benefits professional willing to challenge the status quo. In his time at Portico, he led a transformation in health plan design with innovative offerings that empower members and the organizations they serve to more effectively control costs and improve outcomes.

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