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Mental Health Now Surpasses Hypertension as Top-Ranked Comorbidity for Highmark Wholecare Members

More than 30% of all members diagnosed with at least one mental health condition; members who qualify for special needs plans, known as D-SNP, faced steepest mental health challenges during pandemic.

Nov 30, 2023

by Highmark Wholecare

Photo courtesy of Marcel Strauß on Unsplash

Mental health disorders have emerged as the top comorbidity among Highmark Wholecare members, surpassing other common health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, tobacco use, and obesity. These mental health conditions include severe persistent mental illness (SPMI) – which is the leading comorbidity – and anxiety and depression, which are also among the 10 highest member comorbidities. These findings were part of a recent analysis of more than 420,000 Highmark Wholecare members.

Prior to the pandemic, the top comorbidity across all members was hypertension. Nearly 50% of members have one or more comorbidities.

“While we know that mental health has been on the rise nationwide, seeing data that tells us it’s the number one indicator to predict our members’ health and well-being is alarming,” said Highmark Wholecare Spokesperson John Pepper. “This is why we’re focused on behavioral health education for providers and have recently funded additional programs that are proven to promote the health and well-being of our most at-risk members.”

The analysis also compared comorbidity data from quarter one of 2020, or pre-COVID, to quarter three of 2023. While all member populations saw increases in mental health-related conditions, Dual Eligible Special Needs Plan (D-SNP) members, or those who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid due to age, disability, or both, experienced an 8.5% increase.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, studies show that one in three people with a long-term physical health condition also has a mental health condition. And those with mental health conditions are more likely to develop preventable physical health conditions like heart disease.

Highmark Wholecare has launched two initiatives to address members’ post-COVID challenges. Building off last year’s record charitable commitments statewide to help assist frontline nonprofits, including food pantries, the healthcare insurer announced that it will fund Inglis, a disability advocacy nonprofit, in opening a new center to help people with disabilities in the region and beyond.

“From job training to technology support, Inglis ensures that people with disabilities aren’t isolated but nurtured and encouraged to challenge outdated norms on what is possible in their everyday lives,” Pepper said.

Currently operating in Philadelphia, Highmark Wholecare’s support allowed Inglis to open an innovation center in Pittsburgh this August. The center helps those living with disabilities receive quality-of-life services that keep them actively engaged, nurturing their mental, social, and physical health.

In addition, Highmark Wholecare has launched a pilot program called the Brain Health Initiative. The program deploys care managers who give at-risk D-SNP members customized lifestyle interventions with the goal of preventing cognitive decline – namely Alzheimer’s and dementia.

We believe in caring for the whole person in all communities where the need is greatest. We see a future in which everyone has equal opportunity to achieve their best health. Through our leading Medicaid and Medicare programs, we are coordinating health care that goes beyond doctors and medicine that helps members achieve not just physical health but also delivers whole-person care. Our team members are helping to drive this new kind of health care for our 400,000 Medicaid and Medicare members in collaboration with a network of 29,000 primary care physicians, specialists, hospitals, and other ancillary providers. We are committed to supporting our neighbors through our many community outreach and engagement programs.

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