Proactive substance abuse treatment good for business and society

Over the past several years, there has been extensive coverage on the staggering destruction of the opioid crisis. Individuals, families and communities across all demographics are impacted by this epidemic. While much of the coverage has rightly been focused on the human cost, the opioid crisis and other forms of substance abuse, also have a tremendous impact on small businesses and the economy.

The productivity of employees struggling with substance abuse and associated prolonged absences wreak havoc on small businesses. In addition, this epidemic has increased the costs of workers' compensation and health insurance for small employers. Representative La Shawn Ford led a bipartisan effort to pass legislation out of the Illinois General Assembly that allows health insurance companies to cover state licensed residential care, including recovery homes, for substance abuse.

This treatment will help individuals struggling with substance abuse disorder get the help they need, while providing them a real opportunity to re-enter the workforce. House Bill 5868 now heads to the Governor.

According to a study by Shatterproof, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the devastation addiction causes families, nearly 21 million Americans are impacted by substance abuse. Of those 21 million, approximately 75 percent are part of the workforce. Those suffering from substance abuse disorder often do so in silence.

Employees fighting this disease see a downward spiral in their work productivity and performance. When substance abuse disorders culminate in hospitalizations or extended time off, small employers are left scrambling.

Many suffering from addiction are talented and dedicated employees who are difficult to replace. The loss of key employees to substance abuse also puts added pressure on their teammates, who may already be emotionally impacted by their co-workers suffering.

With respect to workers' compensation costs, a 2012 Hopkins-Accident Research Fund Study determined that employees prescribed opioids had average total claim costs four to eight times greater than similar claims that did not include treatment by opioids. Illinois currently has the seventh highest workers' compensation premiums in the nation. Opening the door to increased coverage for the proactive management of substance abuse is a nonpartisan way to begin driving down the costs of workers' compensation in Illinois.

The same goes for health insurance costs. Studies have found that reactive treatment for substance abuse disorders increase the costs of health insurance.

Permitting health insurance companies to proactively manage this disease has the potential to begin curbing the high costs of health care coverage for small businesses.

The small business community, health care providers and social service agencies have a shared interest in helping those suffering from substance abuse obtain quality, proactive care.

The Governor signing House Bill 5868 will put Illinois on the forefront of the battle against substance abuse.

Permitting health insurance carriers to provide coverage for programs focused on empowering those suffering from substance abuse to manage their disorders will benefit those seeking treatment and the state's economy.

• Elliot Richardson is the founder & president of the Small Business Advocacy Council. Neli Vazquez Rowland is the president/co-founder of A Safe Haven Foundation.

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