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Plans Increase Access to Mental Health Services for Adolescents

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Wellpoint is the latest to expand mental health services, teaming up with InStride to offer virtual care for children and adolescents with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive order.

Wellpoint, a subsidiary of Elevance Health that was previously known as Amerigroup, is the latest health organization to expand mental health services. The plan now offers benefits to state and municipal employees, retirees, and their families insured by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission.

It has teamed up with InStride Health, a pediatric anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) treatment provider, to its expansive provider network. InStride offers care virtually to children and young adults ages 7 to 22, with a focus on those with moderate to severe conditions.

InStride Health’s care model was developed by InStride’s clinical co-founders — Kathryn Boger, Ph.D., and Mona Potter, M.D. — in 2022. InStride’s leaders say that after two months of treatment, 90% of patients in their program experienced a reduction in anxiety, with an average symptom reduction of 46%. Additionally, after three months of enrollment, 82% of patients reported reduced functional impairment and symptom severity.

David Morales

David Morales

"InStride Health’s evidence-based treatment model offers our youngest members struggling with anxiety or OCD convenient, innovative care that will support better mental health and set them on a path for success in life,” David Morales, general manager of Wellpoint, said in a press release.

In December 2023, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in New Hampshire also announced that it has included InStride to its network.

These moves by Wellpoint and Anthem Blue Cross are part of a growing effort to expand mental health access for children, adolescents, and adults. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety, depression and behavioral problems were issues among children and teens. Between 2016 and 2019, about 5.8 million children 3 to 17 years of age in the United States had a diagnosis of anxiety; 2.7 million had a diagnosis of depression, according to the CDC.

COVID-19 worsened the mental health crisis for both adults and children. Anxiety, depression, psychosis, and suicidal behavior increased, according to the National Institutes of Health. In children, the pandemic impacted the cognitive, social, and emotional development of children so much so that in October 2021, several children’s organizations — including The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Children’s Hospital Association — declared a national emergencyin children’s mental health. Surveys and continued research bear out the effects of the pandemic.

In 2022, a survey conducted by the Economist for Cigna and Evernorth found that 80% of working parents reported impact on the mental health of their teenage children as a result of the pandemic, including new or increased levels of anxiety, depression, behavioral issues, and problems with social interactions.

Evernorth is among the plans that has worked to increase access to mental healthcare services through virtual mental health services. And last week, Evernorth, which is part of Cigna, announced it is launching new a behavioral health practice. Evernorth Behavioral Care Group provides value-based, outcome-driven care through a simpler care delivery experience. The group is already treating patients, with plans to scale fully by 2025. Executives said patients are guaranteed an appointment – either in person or virtually – within 72 hours of scheduling.

CVS Health is another organization that has been expanding its mental health coverage for adolescents. For example, in November 2023, the CVS Health Foundation awarded $3 million in grants over five years to advance mental health equity Florida, Texas and Chicago. Each grant is focused on simplifying the process of accessing mental healthcare and expanding the mental health workforce.

Among adults, a survey by CVS Health from September 2023, found that 18% said in the past year where they contemplated suicide. A separate survey CVS found that people often don’t know how to navigate to find the resources they need.

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