With developmental disabilities such as autism afflicting one in six children in the U.S., employers must find ways to help the millions of employees struggling to care for a child with special needs.
As Dr. David Kaplan, senior partner and leader of Mercer’s Health Innovation LABS, notes, "The problems surrounding support for our clients and their employees are real and growing. Parents raising children with developmental disabilities have greater levels of anxiety and depression, experience increased absenteeism and work limitations, and face up to twice the healthcare costs for their children. These issues go beyond the medical expenditures tied to treatment therapies and gaps in care and speak to the emotional and physical toll on working parents who want their children to be happy and healthy.”
Few professionals to help
Nationwide, there is a dearth of trained professionals serving the developmentally disabled and their caregivers. Add to that the huge costs and uncertain outcomes associated with medically-recommended behavioral therapy, and employers are left with limited business arguments and fewer resources for helping their employees. However, options do exist. When designing their plan year, employers would do well to:
- Offer holistic care. Providing coverage for behavioral therapy is a great starting point, however, it addresses only part of the equation—the direct needs of the afflicted child. Parents of children with developmental disabilities suffer much higher rates of stress, depression and absenteeism, along with greater marital and financial strains. Employers seeking to offload some of that burden should consider providing holistic supports that address not only the needs of an employee's child, but the employee's health and well-being as well.
- Pay attention to employee signals. Claims data reveals the number of employees affected by this issue and the financial magnitude of their problem, but that’s not the whole story. Employers should pay attention to the many silent or less visible stressors that signal the heavy emotional toll this burden places on employees.
- Provide access to resources. Employees with developmentally disabled children need access to treatment for their children and expert training for themselves, yet given the scarcity of clinicians, this is not always available. Nor do most clinical programs have the resources to effectively train parents. Remedying this will require employers to think beyond conventional "brick and mortar" solutions. An example would be a program like Rethink Benefits, which offers even geographically isolated employees access to video-based teaching programs for parents and caregivers, as well as care coordination, live video consultations with experienced clinicians and isolation-reducing peer support through online communities and forums.
The number of employees caring for children with developmental disabilities is increasing. Employers can’t afford to ignore the impact this is having on the morale, productivity and well-being of their workforce.
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