May 29, 2018

How Alcohol Abuse Affects Employee Benefit Spending

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we’re marking the occasion at Artemis by helping our clients address behavioral health with data. It seems like more and more scientific studies are linking addiction and mental health, and this comorbidity is a growing concern for self-insured employers. Though the opioid crisis has been in the spotlight in recent months, alcohol abuse is a far more common condition. An estimated 88,000 people die annually in the U.S. from alcohol-related causes, making it the third most common cause of preventable death.

At Artemis, we’re dedicated to helping our clients find the data they need to help their population lead healthier lives. We wanted to know: how does alcohol abuse and dependence affect both the employer and their members?

Note: We worked with sample data for this Story within the Artemis Platform. All data is anonymized.

Using our Cohorts app, which allows you to group members based on diagnosis codes, claims, or other breakdowns, we found 55 members with claims for alcohol abuse or dependence. There were no clear geographic trends, but the majority of these folks were subscribers.

There were some interesting findings when we broke it down by age bins:

The majority of our population with alcohol abuse claims are between 20 and 40 years of age, though we can see some dependents in this chart.

The high cost of the claims is correlated to place of service—members are seeking care at hospitals, and many are being admitted.

Some doctors are treating alcohol abuse with a drug called naltrexone, which belongs to a class of drugs called “opioid antagonists.” It’s commonly prescribed for alcohol and opioid addiction to help prevent relapses. It works by blocking the feelings of pain relief and well-being that some addicts experience when they use. It’s fairly inexpensive, costing just $1.60 per prescription for employers.

One other interesting fact we uncovered on costs: members are paying about $1,400 out of pocket for alcohol-related claims, while employers are covering approximately $20,000.

As benefits experts know, the cost of alcohol abuse and dependence is not limited to dollars and cents. The Artemis Platform makes it easy to dig deeper and find the correlations between diagnoses and member behaviors. We used our Cohort of alcohol abuse and dependence to calculate absence days, Short-Term Disability, and Long-Term Disability.

The yellow bar represents members who are NOT receiving treatment for alcohol abuse (those outside the Cohort). As you can see, these folks actually have longer absences for Short-Term Disability. That’s a surprise, but there are many reasons this could be the case. Perhaps these members are suffering from other conditions unrelated to alcohol abuse, like lower back pain or depression.

But we do see quite clearly that our alcoholism cohort misses more work on average than those outside the cohort. It’s the same story with the employer paid amount for disability; those in our cohort are driving higher costs. Advisers and benefits teams can use data like this to make the case for quality providers and networks, better coverage of substance abuse, and return-to-work programs to help addicts keep their jobs and return from treatment to a stable, welcoming environment.

Is your team getting insights like this from your benefits data?

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