Fear Prevents Employees from Asking about Rehab Coverage: Study

October 16, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.COM) - Afraid of retribution, employees are reluctant to ask if their company's insurance plan covers treatment of problems with alcohol or drugs, a new study found.

The Hazelden Foundation, a non-profit provider of substance abuse counseling services, said that more than half of this country’s 74 million workers with job-sponsored health insurance would prefer to ask about insurance coverage for treatment of a disease, rather than face retribution for merely asking what kind of coverage is available for treatment of problems with alcohol or other drugs.  

Of those, 20 % believed they’d be penalized at work if they sought coverage for substance abuse treatment.

Older employees are less hesitant to seek coverage; only12% of those over 55 would be reluctant.    This is in contrast to the 24% of those unwilling between the ages of 18-34, even though this group has the highest incidence of drug and alcohol use.

Economically, it makes sense for employers to encourage answers about substance abuse programs, the foundation said.    Every $1 spent on addiction treatment can save an estimated $7 in health costs, according to Hazelden.  

Also, compared to their non-abusing coworkers, employees with drug or alcohol problems are:

  • Ten times more likely to miss work
  • Three and-a-half times more likely to be involved in on-the-job accidents
  • Five times more likely to file a worker’s compensation claim
  • 35% less productive

The survey offered three solutions for employers to combat employees’ fear.  

  1. During new employee orientation, clearly describe available insurance benefits for substance abuse services, and emphasize that employees’ rights to confidentiality are strictly enforced;
  2. Choose an appropriate time to annually reiterate to employees the company’s substance abuse insurance benefits;
  3. Human resource managers and employee assistance program staff should educate employees of how to use the company’s insurance system for substance abuse services.

The results are based on a telephone survey in September of 1,101 households carrying employer-sponsored health insurance.