At the 2015 Paradigm Innovation Symposium, Harry L. Spencer, Vice President, Compensation, Benefits & Corporate Social Responsibility at JetBlue Airways, presented a session about how mental health issues can impact employers. Mental health issues can directly and indirectly impact a business. A staggering percentage of the U.S. workforce has behavioral health and/or substance use disorders and these conditions have a variety of consequences for a company’s medical coverage, disability and pharmacy programs, and benefits structure.
Behavioral health has a significant impact on overall healthcare costs. One-in-five Americans has a behavioral health issue, which includes both mental health and addiction. Patients with behavioral health diagnosis have 2-4 times more medical claims and seven times more emergency room visits. 67% of adults report experiencing emotional symptoms of stress and 72% report experiencing physical symptoms of stress. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. According to a Towers Watson study, stress is the #1 health risk faced by employees worldwide; ahead of obesity and inactivity.
Mental health issues can have a significant impact on many employers but, in particular, has a large presence in the airline industry. Earlier this year, a Germanwings pilot that was suffering from depression intentionally crashed a plane, killing all 150 people on board. When a single person can have such a significant impact on so many lives, it becomes imperative to keep mental health issues at the forefront. The airline industry has significantly increased their focus on this area after the Germanwings crash.
JetBlue’s approach to well being is by supporting crew members becoming their best selves. Their goals are to make things simple, personal, balanced, passionate and fun. Their “Blue Carpet” approach to benefits focuses on value and caring, sustainability and the personal health experience. They use technology-enabled care delivery such as telehealth, e-visits and remote monitoring. They also offer robust outcome-based incentives, targeted communication and outreach transparency tools to promote engagement and accountability. Their employees love the telemedicine program, which allows them to Skype with a physician, get diagnosed and receive a prescription without having to physically go to the doctors office.
They do have concerns that their Blue-Carpet approach to benefits could end up driving up their workers’ compensation costs. They have not seen this yet, but it is something they are monitoring. They are challenged to have sufficient modified-duty jobs available to meet the needs of their workforce.
They also recognize that there are areas they need to improve. Their disability and workers’ compensation programs need to be integrated. These currently operate in separate silos but they see the potential benefit to having these programs working cohesively.
In addition, they currently address behavioral health through business partners and have a a third-party EAP. However, they are looking to find an integrated partner to have their behavioral health and EAP bundled together. They are also trying to identify centers of excellence to ensure crew members receive the best possible care.