Consumer / Employer, Payers

BCBS Massachusetts Sees Mental Health Spending Double Since Start of Covid-19

In response to the growing mental health need, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has grown its mental health provider network by 50% over the last five years to more than 18,000 clinicians.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ (BCBS Massachusetts) annual spending on mental health services about doubled to $1.3 billion in 2022 from $610 million in 2019, the insurer announced Monday.

“Prior to the pandemic, we’d been seeing year over year increases in mental health spending,” said Dr. Greg Harris, senior medical director for mental health at BCBS Massachusetts, in an email. “Rates of anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder have increased significantly since the beginning of the pandemic, prompting the demand for mental health services and in turn, spending, to rise.”

The news follows data released by the insurer in November that showed members’ use of mental healthcare visits increased 100% in 2022 from 2019. In 2022, the insurers’ members had about 8 million behavioral health visits, versus 4 million in 2019. BCBS Massachusetts has nearly three million members.

In response to the growing mental health need, the insurer has grown its mental health provider network by 50% over the last five years to more than 18,000 clinicians. BCBS Massachusetts has the largest mental health network in the state, Harris claimed.

BCBS Massachusetts currently contracts with Headway, a network of mental health providers that allows consumers to select their provider based on race, gender, ethnicity and speciality. Starting this summer, Headway will be available to out-of-state members for virtual services. Alma, a mental health provider that offers telehealth and in-person therapy and medication management, will also be available to BCBS Massachusetts members across the nation this summer. The insurer’s primary mental health network also includes Talkiatry, Thriveworks, Refresh Mental Health and Valera Health.

In addition to expanding its primary mental health network, the insurer is also adding two specialty mental health provider organizations. This includes Cortica (which serves children who are autistic or neurodivergent) and Eleanor Health (which treats substance use disorders). BCBS Massachusetts already works with And Still We Rise, Aware Recovery Care, Brightline, DynamiCare, Forge Health and NOCD for specialty mental health services.

“We know it’s not enough just to add clinicians — we need to ensure our members can get the specific care they need,” Harris said.

Harris added that the insurer will keep adding to its network in the future to meet the rising demand for mental health care.

“We know that one size does not fit most. In the coming months, we’ll continue to expand our network to include more national and specialty mental health groups,” Harris stated.

Photo: Wacharaphong, Getty Images