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Athos Rushovich: Disregarding medical history for mental health is the right thing to do

Published: 17/05/23

With the UK facing a growing mental health challenge, ensuring all clients can access support – regardless of their medical history - is more needed now than ever, writes VitalityHealth’s distribution director Athos Rushovich.

In June last year, we became the first private medical insurance (PMI) provider in the UK to disregard medical underwriting for in-network Talking Therapies.

This means that as part of Core Cover, clients are able to get access to up to eight Talking Therapy sessions regardless of their medical history1.

We’ve also removed exclusions for in-network primary care, meaning that if, for example, a member requires support for depression relating to menopause or following childbirth, not only will they have access to a virtual GP, support services such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling are also available to them. 

"Extending access to mental health services to our entire member base offers an efficient way to provide effective support at a time when it is needed most"

- Athos Rushovich, Distribution Director, VitalityHealth

The right thing to do

Why have we done this? Simply put, it’s the right time to do so. Off the back of the pandemic, it’s clear for all to see that we’re facing a growing mental health challenge in the UK.

The situation is only going to worsen as pressure on primary care continues and as the emotional impact of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis continues to take its toll on individuals.

The NHS reported a record high of over four million mental health referrals in 20212 and this is something we saw reflected on our own member data.

We’ve seen a threefold increase in the number of mental health claims between 2015 and 2021, we revealed in our recent Health Claims Insights Report. This has almost been completely driven by Talking Therapies demand, which has increased fivefold over the same period – accounting for 80% of all our mental health care – as outpatient and inpatient claims have remained relatively stable. Extending access to these services to our entire member base offers an efficient way to provide effective support at a time when it is needed most.

Better outcomes

It’s not just growing demand that has informed this decision. From looking at our PMI claims data, we can see that usage of Talking Therapies appears to help prevent the need for more intensive treatment and hospitalisation due to severe mental illness later down the line.

Data based on 1,500 Vitality members who used Talking Therapies between 2019 and 2021 showed that just 1.2% required further treatment within three months of treatment3 - only 1% requiring further Talking Therapies and just 0.2% seeking additional mental health treatment.

This suggests that by helping clients to manage common mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, Talking Therapies are highly effective in helping our members avoid the need for further treatment. Giving them access to CBT support and counselling is yet another way we can help clients stay happy and healthy for longer.

Prevention is better than claim

When it comes to mental health and wellbeing, the world has changed drastically, something spurred on in no small part by the pandemic. It’s now more commonly accepted 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.

As we’ve seen through the story of Vitality Ambassador Jonny Wilkinson, there can be a fine line between feeling well and feeling overwhelmed. Encouragingly though, we are seeing more men reaching out for help when they need it. Despite being far less likely to use Talking Therapies than women, the number of men seeking support has increased 41% between 2019 and 2021, our PMI claims data shows.

As part of our unique approach to prevention, we also aim to make mindfulness easier through offering Headspace at no cost to members, while also incentivising its usage by rewarding it – given that online mindfulness has been shown by research to significantly reduce stress as well as levels of anxiety and depression4. We’ve seen high levels of engagement too, with more than 67,000 members using the benefit and logging over 1.9m mindfulness sessions between launching August 2018 and May 2022.

Shared Value

All of this is part of our shared value philosophy as a health insurer. Our core purpose is to make people healthier and to enhance and protect their lives.

While this might include helping clients to change their behaviour and keep healthy habits locked in place, it also involves ensuring they have the right tools in place to manage their mental health and gain access to help should they need it. By reducing the risk of a claim and easing the burden on the NHS, it is an approach that's good for everyone.

Clinically Speaking: Talking therapies and CBT explained

In a recent Clinically Speaking episode, Vitality spoke to IPRS mental health lead Jess Kerr-Fearon so explore the benefits of talking therapy and how it works.
Watch on YouTube
Through enhancements to our proposition, together we can continue to meet the rapidly evolving needs and expectations of your clients. Read more about how we are evolving the healthcare landscape.

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A version of this article originally appeared on COVER Magazine.

1 Available on all Personal Healthcare, Business Healthcare and Corporate Healthcare plans as part of Core Cover. Excludes members on Healthcare Trusts, Vitality at Work Business, Vitality at Work Enterprise plans.
2 Record 4.3 million referrals to specialist mental health services in 2021, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2022.
Members had access to the Mental Health Cover option so were eligible to onward treatment if needed.
4 Mindfulness online: an evaluation of the feasibility of a web-based mindfulness course for stress, anxiety and depression, Adele Krusche, Eva Cyhlarova, J Mark G Williams.