Implement mental health plan, take a break on insurance

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In a first-of-its-kind agreement, United Educators is partnering with the Jed Foundation to motivate institutions to implement mental health programs on their campuses.

Colleges that initiate a program designed by the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to emotional health and suicide prevention, will receive a premium reduction from United Educators, an insurance company owned and regulated by 1 600 K-12 and higher education member institutions.

At the college level, the Jed Campus program offers two iterations: a four-year plan and a shorter 18-month Jed Campus Fundamentals program. In the four-year program, institutions create a team of administrators, faculty, staff, and students to examine mental health on campus; conduct a student mental health survey; complete a self-assessment; and create a strategic plan to address mental health issues. The Fundamentals program is similar but requires less commitment and time from institutions.

“When a school implements a comprehensive approach to mental health, it essentially means that they are implementing a culture of having a mental health safety net,” said John MacPhee, Executive Director and CEO of the Jed Foundation. “These are the types of systems that we help schools put in place, and these are the types of systems, cultures and approaches that mitigate risk on a campus as a whole.”

Of United Educators’ 1,600 members, 900 already participate in the Risk Management Bonus Credit Program, which allows institutions to earn credit on their renewal bonuses by conducting specific risk management activities, said Sarah Braughler, EU Vice President for Risk Management. These activities now include implementing a Jed mental health program, as well as training supervisors on workplace harassment and educating employees on common causes of accidents and falls.

Braughler said mental health issues on campus are not just a risk management challenge, but also a challenge for the insurance industry and society at large.

“We at United Educators hope that [this partnership] makes a meaningful difference for students on campus,” Braughler said. “We know there is a need. The data tells us that there is a need. Institutional leaders say that’s a goal, and so we’re looking for better student outcomes, and I think the Jed program has a record of success.

For entering a Jed mental health program, facilities receive a credit of 4 or 6 percent of their premium, depending on the policy structure, Braughler said. For a four-year college, the Jed Campus program costs $42,000 and Fundamentals $14,000, MacPhee noted; for two-year institutions, it’s $36,500 for the full program and $14,000 for the abbreviated program.

“If you think that in many cases these policies cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, [the credit] is a significant dollar amount,” Braughler said. “And in some cases, it can cover the entire cost of the Jed program. In others, it may cover part of the cost and, again, simply provide an incentive to take the initiative to go ahead with the program.

MacPhee said the partnership couldn’t have come at a better time, as many students are dealing with lingering mental health issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are a number of students who struggle with depression, anxiety and isolation,” MacPhee said. “And it’s a problem that’s been around for years, but COVID has made it worse by forcing isolation, uncertainty, grief and loss on so many students. So the time really couldn’t be more. urgent and more necessary than doing it now.”

Braughler added that many EU member institutions have shown interest in boosting mental health initiatives on campus.

“I think the concept of wellness has really taken hold in institutions,” Braughler said. “And there are a lot of resources and time and capital investments, so if we can channel some of that, I think people in the institutions are looking for a solution.”

MacPhee said there are currently about 400 colleges using one of Jed’s programs, and he hopes the partnership with UE will encourage at least several dozen more to participate.

After implementing the Jed Campus program, 76% of campuses treated student emotional health as a campus-wide issue requiring the involvement of multiple departments and stakeholders, up from 57% at the start of the program, according to the 2020 Jed Campus Impact Report. And 65% have incorporated a strategic plan for the emotional health of students, compared to 26% before the program.

MacPhee noted that Jed Campus has also helped some institutions create a 24/7 crisis helpline for students and shorten wait times at campus counseling centers.

Victor Schwartz, CEO and director of Mind Strategies, a mental health consulting agency, who previously worked as the Jed Foundation’s chief medical officer, said the partnership is an important step in trying to mitigate the risks of mental illness.

“The Jed Foundation has developed a comprehensive public health model over the years that attempts to reduce the risk of self-harm and suicide on college campuses and has implemented this model through the Jed Campus program,” Schwartz said. “United Educators is addressing accountability issues in higher education, and I think this partnership, which has been discussed for a long time, is a recognition that they believe this model is valid.”

And just as health insurance companies give benefits to people who avoid smoking, Schwartz said, the EU’s partnership with Jed means colleges are doing the right thing to improve the mental health of their students.

“It was needed for a long time,” Schwartz said. “COVID has certainly amplified and intensified the issues and that’s yet another reason why it’s a good idea for campuses to do what they can to provide support and services, including the kinds of things that are recommended as part of the Jed Campus program.”

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