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4 key trends transforming employee assistance programs

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in Employee Benefits Program,Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Employee assistance programs are on the rise as employers cope with rising health care costs—and employees cope with the stresses of an uncertain economy. Employee use of EAP services was up last year in nearly half the companies surveyed by Towers Watson.

“I believe employers will look to integrate their EAP with other components of their health management strategy,” says Sean Fogarty, of CuraLinc Healthcare, an EAP provider. “When positioned correctly, an EAP can act as an effective vehicle for managing health care costs and enhancing employee productivity.”

Fogarty predicts the following four trends will drive EAPs in coming months:

1. More EAPs will offer a mental health and substance abuse (MH/SA) gatekeeper component.

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) of 2008 prohibits group health or self-insured plans covering more than 50 employees from imposing caps or limitations on mental health treatment or substance abuse benefits that are not also applied to medical and surgical benefits.

That means higher costs for coverage through traditional health insurance plans. But EAPs with an MH/SA gatekeeper component can provide comparable services at much lower cost. Gatekeepers coordinate mental health and substance abuse care.

2. EAPs will be increasingly integrated into pharmacy benefits.

In 2007, U.S. adults spent more money on antidepressants and other psychotropic medications than any other drug category. Considering that drug costs continue to rise even faster than overall medical costs, employers need to find new and effective ways to manage them.

EAP-based pharmacy intervention programs can help control those costs. EAP clinicians can suggest short-term counseling to complement the medication, or help employees find psychiatric specialists—most psychotropic meds are prescribed by general practitioners—who have more expertise in precisely treating mental health problems.

3. EAPs will help employers better manage disability claims.

According to The Hartford insurance company, workers who accessed their EAP while on short-term disability (STD) leave returned to work twice as often at the conclusion of an STD claim than employees who did not have an EAP available to them. The study also found that STD claim duration was 24% lower, after EAP interventions, for members with cancer, musculoskeletal and psychiatric STD claims.

4. Employers will work to overcome the stigma surrounding EAPs.

In some organizations, EAPs have a negative stigma and are often viewed as little more than a place to refer an underperforming employee before firing him. EAPs can offer marketing and benefits communication materials to help change that perception.

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