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ICBA warns mental health and diabetes crises driving benefits costs up

Warren Frey
ICBA warns mental health and diabetes crises driving benefits costs up

A British Columbia construction leader says rising rates of diabetes and mental health challenges are adding pressure to group health benefit plans in the sector.

Both the Alberta and B.C. editions of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association’s (ICBA) Construction Monitor newsletters in September stressed the importance of adapting benefit plans to current realities, especially given the continued mental and physical effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we came out of the pandemic, what we saw in terms of mental health was, if you look at drugs prescribed for depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder (ADD), it is number one in terms of number of prescriptions on every single plan,” said ICBA BC president Chris Gardner.

“About 40 per cent of all long-term disability claims are mental health related. All of that has a cost impact on benefit plans, and that was one of the reasons ICBA decided to develop a mental health and wellness program that’s designed specifically for construction professionals, in the ways that we talk about mental health and that it can reveal itself.”

Mental health challenges in construction can include substance abuse, depression, anxiety or can be triggered by a critical disease diagnosis or family stresses like divorce.

“There’s a lot of stresses and the program is holistic and is meant to deal with (all those factors), but at its core it’s meant to start a conversation about mental health so people can feel comfortable putting up their hand and saying, ‘I’m struggling’ and then appropriate resources can be directed to that person,” Gardner said.

Compounding these challenges is a shortage of counsellors, medical practitioners and other professionals resulting in significant wait times, he said, “but the important thing is that we’re having these discussions.”

The data available through ICBA’s benefit plans also indicated a significant rise in Type 2 diabetes, he said, and in terms of the cost of prescriptions, Type 2 diabetes is number one.

While weight-loss drugs such as Ozempic can help fight diabetes, he said, people getting a prescription for the drug who aren’t diabetic creates shortages in some markets, along with a general lack of knowledge as to the possible long-term side effects of the drug.

All these factors put cost pressures on health and dental plans, Gardner said, when the ICBA and other organizations are trying to provide plans that have comprehensive coverage at a reasonable cost for contractors who are already facing high prices in other aspects of their businesses.

ICBA’s advantage is that it has size and scale putting the organization in a constructive position when having conversations with carriers, as well as a reach that goes beyond B.C. and across the company via other affiliated open shop associations.

“But it’s difficult and there’s no question there’s a lot of upward pressure on health and dental plans,” he said. “Inflation is running through our economy and health and dental benefits are no exception.”

Gardner added the male-dominated, “get the job done” attitude on the worksite is an additional challenge being addressed not only by ICBA but also other stakeholders.

“There’s no organization in construction that is not having conversations about mental health issues, that’s not looking for ways for help contactors and their employees deal with these challenges,” Gardner said. “We’re talking about mental health now more openly and in ways we never did before and that’s good, but it does reveal that we need resources in the system as people start to put up their hands and say, ‘I’ve got a problem and I need some help.’”

Follow the author on Twitter @JOCFrey.

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