After becoming the first private medical insurer in the UK to disregard medical underwriting for in-network talking therapies last year, we’ve since seen a staggering 60% increase in claims for the service each month.
The reason for such rising demand might not come as a surprise.
According to Mind, one in six people in England report experiencing a common mental health problem – such as anxiety and depression – in any given week.
After seeing record mental health referrals in 2021, the NHS saw one in four patients being forced to wait more than 12 weeks to start treatment last year, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Since 2015, we’ve seen a fivefold increase in talking therapies claims, which make up 85% of all mental health care.
What’s also notable is how requests for more intensive treatment involving in-patient and day-patient have remained stable over this period.
The vast majority of this can be put down to the effectiveness of talking therapies, which includes counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
According to our data, almost 99% of our members who use talking therapies do not require further treatment within three months.
In contrast, in-patient and day-patient claims are extremely rare, accounting for less than 1% of all mental health-related cases.
Access to this sort of treatment is of course crucial, where it’s needed, but it does pose a question around what we truly define as ‘comprehensive’ when it comes to mental health cover in the private medical insurance (PMI) market today.
Restrictions at underwriting
Given the resounding evidence of their effectiveness and high incidence rates, it’s clear that access to talking therapies has never been more needed.
As the data suggests, their important role in preventing mental health conditions from worsening should not be underestimated too.
With this in mind, applying restrictions at underwriting stage potentially poses a problem for advisers should their client not be unable to get support for a common mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression, if they had disclosed a need for treatment in the past.
Disregarding mental health history as part of the underwriting process for talking therapies has meant that, for example, a member who requires support for depression relating to menopause or following childbirth, will not only have access to a virtual GP but mental health support involving a trained mental health professional too.
Extending cover for more rare or extreme types of mental illness – such as bipolar and schizophrenia – for those that need it is of course a necessary pursuit.
But can a PMI plan be considered fully comprehensive if access to treatment for a common mental health is restricted for a growing number of people who apply for health cover?
Prevention is better than claim
Expanding mental wellness support should not only be about supporting people when they are unwell.
It is far more commonly accepted today that we all have mental health, and this is making psychotherapy a vitally important part of the lives of many people – both in terms of prevention and as a form of treatment.
We also aim to make mindfulness easier offering Headspace at no cost to members, while also incentivising usage by rewarding it – given that online mindfulness has been shown to significantly reduce stress as well as levels of anxiety and depression.
We’ve seen high levels of engagement too.
In 2022, 1.2 million mindfulness sessions were recorded by Vitality members. Those using Headspace have a 27% greater improvement in mental wellbeing over time compared to those not using the app.
Our member data also shows that physically active members exercising at least three days per week have a 10% lower risk of anxiety and depression.