Improving financial support programs for those living with multiple sclerosis (MS) would increase workforce participation and boost economic activity, concluded a report published by the Conference Board of Canada in March, which was Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month.
Today, about 100,000 Canadians live with MS, making Canada one of the countries with the highest rates of the disease worldwide. The number is expected to rise to more than 130,000 over the next decade.
With a growing population, it is critical to find ways to integrate MS patients in the workforce.
The report, “Multiple Sclerosis in the Workplace: Making the Case for Enhancing Employment and Income Supports,” found that expanding the employment insurance (EI) sickness benefit program and making the disability tax credit (DTC) refundable would allow about 11,400 people to remain in or re-enter the workforce, boosting the economy an estimated $1.1 billion per year.
Today, many MS patients find themselves forced to either decrease the number of work hours or leave work altogether, lowering their income. They also face higher costs of living due to all the home modifications they must make and to ensure accessible transportation.
The report suggests that increasing the financial assistance to MS patients would help ensure an adequate level of income that could be used to help pay for medical bills, home modifications and accessible transportation.
About 129,000 Canadians would benefit from extending the maximum Employment Insurance (EI) sickness program duration from the current 15 weeks to 26 weeks, according to the report, and as much as 99,000 people could benefit from reducing the minimum number of hours worked to receive benefits from the current 600 to 300.
In addition, if the federal disability tax credit was refundable, it could provide up to $1,230 for Canadians with disabilities, which could be a great help when the average out-of-pocket expenditure for people with MS in Canada is around $1,300 annually.
Taking into account that expanding the EI sickness program would increase expenses by up to nearly $1.3 billion per year, and that making the DTC refundable would add $1.2 billion to overall costs, the report estimates that the economic benefit of increased workforce participation could reach $1.1 billion.
“When people living with multiple sclerosis or their caregivers are unemployed or underemployed, it is often detrimental to their health and financial situation,” Thy Dinh, director of health economics and policy from the Conference Board of Canada, said in a press release.
“Although extending EI sickness benefits and making the DTC a refundable tax credit have clear and tangible costs, there are also clear benefits for individuals, employers and society in helping Canadians living with MS to obtain or maintain their employment and an adequate level of income,” Dinh added.