A comprehensive human resources benefits package to address mental health must also include substance abuse disorder (SUD) treatment. Does yours?

Two out of three people who struggle with addiction also have co-occurring mental health illnesses which can include post traumatic stress, depressive disorders, anxiety, and/or obsessive-compulsive disorders. This existence of co-occurring psychological disorders can lead to people struggling with substance abuse to develop a chemical dependency or addiction. And once a person’s brain is addicted to alcohol or other drugs, it also has a physical disease that must heal.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), almost 11 million full-time workers in the United States have SUDs. For American businesses, SUDs can be costly mainly due absenteeism and loss of productivity. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports businesses lose $130 billion annually due to lost productivity that can be traced to SUDs.  

It’s important to know that the Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity require that health plans treat mental health and substance use disorders the same way they treat other health issues. Mental health and substance use disorder coverage must be comparable to coverage for general medical and surgical care. And limitations on mental health and substance use disorder benefits such as copayments, visit limits, and preauthorization requirements, must generally be comparable with those for medical/surgical benefits.

Here are three ways to support your employees with both mental health and substance use issues:

  1. Promote the benefits. Too often, in fact more often than not, there is stigma attached to SUD and mental illness. Employers can play a major role in removing that stigma by creating parity between the general medical benefits they offer and the mental health benefits they offer. Currently, more than 20 million Americans need SUD treatment but don’t get it. And at least twenty percent of workers cite fear of stigma as the reason for not seeking help. 
  2. Remove barriers to access. In addition to promoting the benefits, employers should work to remove any real or perceived barriers to accessing them. For example, employers can remind employees that the U.S. federal government’s HIPAA regulations govern the privacy requirements for Substance Use Disorder treatment, as they do any provision of health care in the U.S. Under HIPAA rules, a patient’s “personal health information” must be private, and there are strict rules concerning how that information may be disclosed. 
  3. Educate employees. Employers can also provide information on what treatment might look like. There is a “continuum of care” in drug addiction treatment that spans the most intense levels of care through post-treatment recovery support. Ideally, clients progress from higher levels of care to lower levels, however, the best plans are built to the employees’ individual needs.

Mental health and substance abuse disorder coverage are critical components of a comprehensive health benefits package for every company. Make sure your plans meet the requirements, and meet the needs of your employers and your company.

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