COVID-19, Mental Health and Insurance

Sibylle Fischer
February 26, 2021
The mental side effects of COVID-19 may be felt even long after the physical dangers of the virus have waned – how should the insurance industry respond?

From dealing with the impacts of lockdown, social isolation, job loss, economic insecurity, and generalized fear and anxiety, the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the social, economic and emotional wellbeing of millions around the globe. And while we continue to make progress in fighting virus transmission, many psychologists are sounding the alarm about the pandemic’s long-term implications for mental health – especially as they observe a worrisome spike in patients with post-traumatic stress symptoms, insomnia, obsessive compulsive disorder, severe depression and other indicators of mental distress. With startups already responding (CB Insights noted that funding for mental health and wellness startups reached an all-time high in 2020), there seems to also be a significant opportunity for insurers looking to support employees and policyholders by investing (and in some cases re-investing) in wellness-focused initiatives for the post-Covid landscape.

Understanding the long-term impacts

Looking at relevant traumatic events in our recent past, researchers are speculating that the psychological and stress-related impacts from Covid-19 may be felt for a long time, even after the public health risk has passed. Because mental health issues have long been stigmatized and hard to talk about, prevention remains a challenge. As various coalitions, government agencies and organizations mobilize to create guidelines and recommendations to help mitigate long-term psychological hardship and to develop better treatment options, insurers also have a responsibility to investigate how they might better support and educate employees and policy holders around these sensitive topics moving forward.

Innovations in the wellness sector

From booking a telemedicine appointment with a therapist or starting mindfulness training, there’s no arguing that technology has broadened access, increased convenience, created new patient benefit, lowered costs, and raised awareness around many mental health and wellness issues. Even prior to Covid, emerging technologies helped establish a range of new treatment options and products for monitoring and supporting mental health and wellness. The ubiquity of smartphones, tablets and wearables helped usher in this period of extensive tech development in the health & wellness space (browsing the iTunes or Android app stores will reveal thousands of such apps  from meditation guides to online counseling platforms.) And over the last year global investment trends focusing on the health and wellness landscape have significantly accelerated, including new contributions in fitness tech, sleep tech, at-home wellness, and support group apps. Insurers should be watching these kinds of industry trends for opportunities, looking for gaps in their offerings and identifying potential partnerships for synergies. 

A proactive role for insurers

At Baloise, corporate health management (CHM) is regarded as an essential value, focused on the mental and physical well-being of its employees and system-wide efforts geared toward improving overall working conditions. CHM, therefore, has become foundational to company success, leading to a number of organizational development opportunities, ongoing support for a positive working atmosphere, and work-life balance efforts. But while many insurers already offer individual and group protection policies with mental health services and employee assistance programs, they should be prepared to see demand grow, including the need for more robust content and programming that addresses specific needs for community members. As insurers look to create more supportive products and resources for employees and policy holders, education, innovation and prevention will remain central to that effort. By continuing to invest in and underwrite innovative, evidence-based, preventative activities that are known to support wellness and mental health goals, insurers can take a proactive approach that adds value, drives awareness, mitigates risk, and ultimately helps their customers and employees better navigate these uncertain times.