Mental Health Now Top Comorbidity for Highmark Members

Highmark Wholecare reports that over a third of its members have been diagnosed with at least one mental health condition.

That’s according to a recent analysis of over 420,000 Highmark Wholecare members, which found that mental health disorders have become the most common health condition among its members, surpassing common conditions like diabetes, hypertension, tobacco use and obesity.

The Pennsylvania-based health plan has a network of over 29,000 providers and offers Medicaid and Medicare programs. Its parent company Highmark Health, recently inked a deal with Spring Health to provide its members access to Spring’s in-person and virtual therapy, medication management and 24/7 crisis support.


“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,” John Pepper, a spokesperson for Highmark Wholecare, said in a statement. “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.”

Severe persistent mental illness (SPMI) was the most common comorbidity, with anxiety and depression both among the top 10 most common.

The use of the term SPMI has been questioned for lacking a standard definition, but is often used as an umbrella term for diagnoses including schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder.


Mental disorders like these impact physical health, and vice versa, according to the CDC. Depression, for example, increases risk for conditions like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

The study also compared data from the first quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2023 to compare mental health disorder rates before the pandemic to the present. All populations of Highmark Wholecare members experienced increases in mental health conditions. Still, its dual eligible members who qualify for Medicare and Medicaid due to age, disability, or both, experienced an 8.5% increase.

To combat these higher rates of mental health disorders, Highmark Wholecare launched a pilot program called the Brain Health Initiative, which is designed to give its members who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid customized lifestyle interventions to prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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