June 14, 2022

By Alex Carducci

Pharmacist and Product Director
Manulife Group Benefits’ Health Strategies

The costly challenge with mental health prescriptions

Members with mental illness like depression and anxiety can face a costly road to recovery. Medications for mental health can take time to show effectiveness and can have side effects.

There are many safe and effective medications used to treat mental health conditions but getting on the right medication can be a trial-and-error process.

These prescriptions typically take four to six weeks to start working. The first drug may not be the best fit for a member, and we’ve seen members go 14 months without optimal treatment1.

During that time members can experience side effects and feel more unwell, which can lead to presentism, absenteeism and eventual disability.

Mental illness in the workplace leads to direct and indirect costs to employers, namely health care costs, absenteeism and productivity2.

Manulife’s Personalized Medicine program can help get members on the right mental health medication quicker to help prevent productivity loss and ineffective drug spend.

Personalized Medicine: Using genetics to save time and money

Our Personalized Medicine program can help pave a shortcut to the right prescription. A simple saliva test can help members avoid the trial-and-error process with these prescriptions.

Pharmacogenetic testing, in its simplest form, is a saliva test that shows us which medications a member is more likely to benefit from with less risk of side effects.

The Personalized Medicine program can help members get to the right drug faster and reduces the chances of trying three or four different drugs.

The test is an upfront cost of about $400 to your plan. But if members find the right prescription quickly, it can save money in the long run for your organization.

According to our data, the average annual cost of a mental health medication is approximately $200 per year. On average, members are on medication therapy for 14 months before testing with the Personalized Medicine program3.

Half of those members required a change in medication. The medication the member was taking for 14 months was not ideal and ended up being ineffective drug spend for sponsors3

Early program results show 53% of members that take the test change their mental health medication, and 82% of members that change medication report an improvement in symptoms3.

Early results from the Personalized Medicine program show that members who access a test and have a change in medication average an 8-point reduction on the scale commonly used to rate the severity of depression, called the PHQ-94.

Studies have shown that reduction in depression can improve a member’s productivity at work by up to 7 hours per week5. Improvements in depression scores is also correlated with reduced absenteeism6.

We estimate that organizations can save about $2,400 in direct and indirect health costs when a member making $30 per hour optimizes their medication therapy in our program1*.

That $400 test has a potential 6:1 return on investment based on the success we’ve seen with our Personalized Medicine program and our research1*.

Going beyond testing, offering guidance

Manulife’s Personalized Medicine program goes beyond the test to give members individualized pharmacist support.

A pharmacist discusses the test results with the member and their physician to make sure they understand the insights. With this expert advice, the member and physician can potentially get to the best drug possible.

This approach supports Manulife’s proactive Health by Design strategy. We want to prevent members from falling into the costly cycle of presentism, absenteeism and disability that is common for those facing mental illness.

Reach out to your Manulife representative for more information.

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