What options do you have in your collective agreement or health benefit plans?

May 4, 2017

Collective agreements and health plans vary a lot when it comes to language and health benefits. Members may not be aware of all the options available to them, and you can help them understand what is and isn’t covered by the language in your contract or the benefits in your health plan.

Employee Assistance Programs or Employee and Family Assistance Programs

Does your workplace offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP or EFAP)? EAPs offer short-term counselling at no cost. Programs vary, but usually cover four to six sessions with a trained counsellor, although sometimes EAPs agree to an extended number of sessions. An EAP counsellor may also be able to refer your member to other resources.

EAP programs are typically delivered by third-party companies. The member will need to contact the EAP provider, who will then give them the name of a counsellor in the area. Many companies will allow specific requests. For example, the member can request a counsellor who speaks a particular language.

Explain to the member that EAPs are confidential. The employer may receive a general report about EAP service usage from time to time, but the counsellor does not report on or discuss sessions with the employer or co-workers.

Health Benefits

If the member has health benefits, do they include access to counselling, and/or a drug plan that can help cover the costs of medication like anti-depressants?

Members should understand that there are different kinds of counsellors: psychotherapists, psychologists, counselling therapists, social workers, and others. These may not all be covered by the health plan, so they should find out who is covered before making an appointment. Otherwise, they will have to pay out of pocket. You can also let the member know what the annual maximum the plan covers for counselling is or the amount per session. Counsellors may charge between $80-$250 an hour. Some may have sliding scales for fees as well. Some plans may also require a referral from a doctor. If this is the case, then you should advise the member they need to see their doctor for a referral before seeing a therapist.

Please note that the costs to see psychiatrists, who are specialist medical doctors, are normally covered by provincial or territorial health services. Many members may have trouble seeing a psychiatrist due to a general shortage of them and long wait times—some provinces have wait lists that are years long. So getting help for many members in a timely way will likely be through their family doctor and then accessing counselling if needed through workplace health plan coverage or community clinics if available.

It’s helpful to let your member know if your contract has any provisions for time off for medical appointments (hopefully paid time off). If your contract does not have this provision and the member needs time off, remember this time off could be an accommodation measure in an accommodation plan for the member.

Family Doctor

Family doctors can be a very helpful resource for your members. Doctors prescribe treatments like anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, and may also be able to refer members to more specialized resources in the public health system. These include publicly funded services like mood disorder or eating disorder clinics, for example. If the member’s doctor works in a collaborative clinic, it’s possible that there is someone on staff who offers counselling. A family doctor can also help identify whether, or not, more specialized treatment might be helpful. If a member doesn’t have a family doctor, they should still see a doctor at a walk-in clinic as that may be helpful in getting some treatment.