Claims for mental health drugs rise in pandemic

Specialty drugs remain single biggest factor influencing private drug plan management

Claims for mental health drugs rise in pandemic
Health claims for drugs used to treat depression rose by 10 per cent for adults and 22 per cent for dependants in 2020, according to a report.

Health claims for drugs used to treat depression increased by 10 per cent for adults and 22 per cent for dependants in 2020 in Canada, according to a report.

For 20- to 39-year-olds, the number of claimants for antidepressants climbed from the seventh most prescribed type of medicine at 5.6 per cent in 2016, to the fourth spot at 7.9 per cent by the end of 2020, finds TELUS Health.

As longer-term impacts of the pandemic continue, mental health will be a key area to keep an eye on as society continues to grapple with continued isolation and anxiety, particularly in young people, says the report.

“We can expect to see aftershocks in 2021, especially in the area of mental health,” says Shawn O’Brien, principal for health benefits management at TELUS Health.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy may just be the answer to people's mental health problems, according to another expert.

Prescriptions down

Many Canadians also did not obtain medications prescribed for their health conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to TELUS Health.

In April 2020, average claims for acute medications, such as antibiotics for common infections, dropped by 22 per cent compared with the previous month. For example, claims for azithromycin, an antibiotic used for common infections such as ear infections and strep throat, dropped by 73 per cent during the second quarter of 2020.

The decline in claims may be correlated to populations quarantining, which helped reduce the spread of common infections, or by Canadians avoiding or delaying care due to fear of exposure to the virus, says O’Brien.

“This trend speaks to the importance of working Canadians understanding what is covered in their benefit plan, and employers having a diverse range of tools, including virtual care services, to support their employees in managing their physical and mental health.”

Potentially more than 100,000 Canadians living with undiagnosed chronic diseases did not begin treatment in 2020, according to a previous report.

Specialty drugs

Specialty drugs remain the single biggest factor influencing private drug plan management and account for a third of overall costs, finds TELUS Health. The growth rate for costs for specialty drugs was more than six times that of traditional drugs.

Average eligible costs for specialty drugs increased by 8.7 per cent for insured Canadians aged 25 to 64, compared with 1.3 per cent for non-specialty or traditional drugs. However, these are used by just 1.3 per cent of total claimants.

Among the most prescribed specialty drugs are those that treat rheumatoid arthritis (accounting for 99 per cent of eligible costs), skin disorders (accounting for 62 per cent of eligible costs) and cancers (accounting for 79 per cent of eligible costs).

Thirty-five per cent of Canadians have been diagnosed with chronic disorders, but many of them are reluctant to seek help amid the COVD-19 pandemic, according to another report.

To learn more about boosting your employee health and mental being, download People Corporation's free whitepaper: How the benefits industry is evolving to manage overall health and wellbeing holistically

 

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