Welcome to the WBD News Flash, your weekly highlight of HR benefits and healthcare news. Weekly, we will provide you with the top trending industry news stories in healthcare, human resources, legislation, benefits technology and administration, and more. Make the WBD News Flash your go to reference for current events!

Virtual Behavior Healthcare in High Demand

Cigna has released a report on Covid-related behavioral healthcare services, and found that 97% of people accessing these services had never made a claim in this segment before. The report also showed a 7.9% increase in the use of antidepressants in 2020 over 2019, and a 27% increase in outpatient care visits for behavioral health, compared with pre-pandemic numbers.

Cigna’s report suggests that employees who sought behavioral health treatment have found increased productivity at work. And even when virtual care saw a decline towards the end of 2020, virtual behavioral care maintained its increase. Reasons cited by patients for preferring virtual visits included convenience, decreased costs, free virtual follow-ups, and care from long-distance.

Should Employers Require Covid-19 Vaccines? 

A survey of employers found only 23% believe employees should have to receive a Covid-19 vaccine before returning to work in the office. The brokerage and consultancy Willis Towers Watson shared their findings in the Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey conducted in early March. They found that while 8 in 10 employers agree that immunization is necessary to reactive the economy, only 10% believe in mandatory vaccinations. The company’s population health leader, Jeff Levin Scherz, M.D., suggests that employers “make vaccines an easy choice for employees by first helping convince them to get the vaccine and then making it easy for them to do so.”

Vaccine Update: Boosted Eligibility, Production as Demand Surges

As the U.S. posts new daily records for vaccinations against Covid-19, six states are opening up eligibility to all adults as of Monday, March 28th. Three more states follow suit midweek, plus Florida, New York, and California on April 5th, 6th, and 15th, respectively. With vaccine numbers soaring day after day, the Biden administration has adjusted their initial goal of 100 million shots in the first 100 days to 200 million shots.

State officials still point to supply as the only thing holding back an even more robust vaccination strategy. “The problem is not the eligibility standards. The problem is the supply,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. In Texas, where all adults are now eligible for a vaccine, the Houston area’s Harris County health department warned that they didn’t know if they’d get more vaccines for the coming rush in demand.

Still, all three approved vaccines appear to be meeting production numbers, and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot gets a big boost, with 11 million does expected to ship in the next week.

CDC Warns of U.S. Covid-19 Surge

In a White House briefing on Monday, the CDC Director Rochelle Walesnky, MD, warned that rising Covid-19 cases across the U.S. could be the signal of a surge. The seven day average of new cases has seen a 10% increase over the previous period, and hospitalizations have increased. Walensky described the potential surge as “impending doom” for the U.S.

Dr. Ashish Jha of Brown University School of Public Health told CNN that new infections are showing up in younger people, lowering the average age of cases, because, in part, so many people over the age of 65 have received Covid-19 vaccinations. Add in the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant (initially nicknamed the UK variant) that is now causing a surge in Europe, and eased restrictions by many states, plus spring break travel which has caused crowding and triggered police responses in Florida, and experts believe that the U.S. could be heading for a surge in cases even with the vaccination process underway.