Behavioral Hospital Volumes Recovered Much Quicker Than Other Sectors in 2020, Data Shows

Inpatient admissions for behavioral health recovered from the coronavirus at a much quicker rate than for other medical services, according to a Milliman analysis of behavioral health claims from 12.5 million people. 

Milliman is an international actuarial and consulting firm based in Seattle, Washington. The results of the report — shared with Behavioral Health Business in an industry note from the financial services firm Stephens — paint a picture of how behavioral volumes evolved throughout 2020.

Unsurprisingly, in-person behavioral health visits began to fall off drastically in March, when the coronavirus first shut down the U.S. That drop was apparent for all in-person behavioral health services, from outpatient to inpatient and even ER visits for behavioral health issues.


May saw the biggest year-over-year decrease in in-person behavioral health visits. Commercial visits that month were down 75% compared to May 2019, while Medicare and Medicaid visits were down 56% and 22%, respectively. 

When broken out individually, inpatient behavioral health admissions were down in March through June and saw their worst month in April. But by summer, those volumes had started to recover.

In July, commercial inpatient behavioral health visits were up 23% year-over-year, while Medicaid inpatient visits were up 19%. Meanwhile, Medicare visits remained down 10% year-over-year in July, but that’s not entirely surprising considering how vulnerable the Medicare population is to COVID-19.


That relatively quick recovery is a testament to the importance of behavioral health services, as well as the negative toll the COVID-19 emergency has taken on Americans’ mental health. Amid the coronavirus, rates of both drug overdoses and suicidal ideation have spiked, according to the CDC. 

So, even though less people received in-person care in 2020, the demand for behavioral health services never disappeared. That’s further evidenced by the overall number of behavioral health visits that occurred last year, a huge proportion of which were delivered virtually, according to the Milliman analysis. 

In fact, in the first eight months of 2020, Medicaid behavioral health visits never dipped below 2019 levels, even beating them for seven of those months. Meanwhile, commercial visits were also up most of the year, seeing a 20% year-over-year increase in June, for example.

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