Health insurers move to mental health

It was the Covid lockdowns and mounting pressures on New Zealanders’ financial health that led to a unique offer of three free mental wellbeing sessions a year by New Zealand health insurer UniMed.

Chief Executive Officer Louise Zacest saw this firsthand during the lockdowns and realized that UniMed members lacked access to the kind of support the new normal required.

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Louise Zacest, UniMed Chief Executive Officer / Photo Provided.

“I was in Auckland for the first couple of lockdowns and was interacting with people who were struggling with the impact on their lives,” she says. «We knew UniMed had to respond very quickly to bring needed mental wellbeing services to our members, and given the value members saw, we decided to provide it as a continuous service beyond that point.»

“The lockdowns, and all that has followed since, have created a level of stress and pressure for people and now people are recovering from extreme weather events and facing challenging financial times. Everything flows through.

UniMed provides workplace health insurance and other services. They began partnering with Clearhead in 2021 to provide mental health and wellness services to members with three free sessions available each year.

“We wanted to ensure that our members had access to mental wellbeing support whenever they needed it,” says Zacest. “We installed the new service in about two weeks. We had discussions with Clearhead before, so we went to them and said ‘this is what we want to do, how can we bring something to our people immediately?’”

Clearhead sessions aim to help people reduce stress, manage anxiety, manage mood and sleep better and are available online or in person. “It’s a service that needed to be available, virtually and in person. Obviously virtual was important at the time,” says Zacest, referring to nationwide and Auckland-specific lockdowns.

Mental health is an ongoing challenge in New Zealand as well as globally and the NHS is struggling to keep up with demand. Many find themselves falling through the cracks or waiting months to access services. One in three New Zealanders suffers from a mental disorder at least once in their life.

Economically, the mental health crisis also means billions of dollars lost in productivity. Nearly two-thirds of New Zealand organizations report increased employee stress.

«This affects all of us,» she says. «We all have moments in our lives where we need a little support, when we’re feeling a little down or stressed and anxious.»

Clearhead has over 500 therapists to choose from, including dedicated Mori and Pasifika practitioners, and an appointment can usually be made within 24 hours. “We had one person book a session on Saturday at 11pm and connect with someone on Sunday afternoon,” Zacest says. «That ability to be responsive if people have a need is really important to us.»

Mental health services are completely confidential; even employers don’t know when employees log in. Members can also choose to receive support from a provider of their choice and UniMed will reimburse them. “We’ve had emails and notes from people saying it’s really made a big difference for them,” Zacest says.

UniMed is proud to have Omexom among their customers in the 24/7 Construction, Engineering and Maintenance sector in the Energy sector. / Photo provided.

For those who need more support, UniMed and Clearhead help them find other services to give them the help they need. «People who are mentally ill are referred to services that can support them,» she says. «If these people come through our services, we will support them as much as possible and part of that may direct them to other appropriate services.»

UniMed’s origins demonstrate how and why the company moved so quickly to provide mental health support. In 1978, a group of New Zealand workers got together and said: How can we help people like us access health care? This important question led to the creation of UniMed, a non-profit company that now supports over 100,000 New Zealanders with better access to healthcare and wellbeing.

«That’s where our origins are,» Zacest says, «And we still have a strong connection to this question, How can we help people get support?» UniMed is now a leader in workplace health insurance and partners with some of New Zealand’s largest companies.

The company is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year and Zacest says it continues to focus on the core goal of keeping New Zealand workers healthy for life. As a workplace health insurer, the employer pays for the health insurance.

«Our goal as a workplace insurer is that a lot of people, who couldn’t afford it if they had to pay for it themselves, can now access health insurance,» she says. «This is something that gives people that extra bit of peace of mind knowing they can access health and wellness services as and when they need them.»

UniMed cares for the people who care for the country and the free mental wellbeing services to all members also help members achieve their goals when it comes to work and wellbeing in all aspects of their lives.

For more information: www.unimed.co.nz

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Image Source : businessdesk.co.nz

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