THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF CHRONIC PAIN

Chronic Pain affects the body, the mind, and the economy. We are all coping with the blinding strain of the pandemic on our lives, and any additions to this struggle for us or our province are challenging. The Alberta Government is going through dramatic changes on many levels. The pandemic has already severely impacted multiple sectors and will continue to cause repercussions in the future.


Alberta Health Care, Workers Compensation Board and even the Ministry of Justice have all been affected. More specifically in relation to the currently tabled proposal in the Legislature regarding changes to the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) and No-Fault Insurance. If Alberta moves to no-fault insurance, costs will trickle down to our public health care system. Currently the costs of motor vehicle accidents fall onto AHS in the form of ER visits, acute care and doctor visits. Post-accident rehabilitation is reimbursed to individuals piece-meal. With the new legislation, all costs above the capped amount of no-fault insurance would belong to the public system unless a lawsuit , therefore, demand increases for pain management and rehabilitation within AHS.


In 1932, Mixture & Barr described that disability WCB claims related to the “slipped disk” exploded onto the scene following the Great Depression. In 1990, Fibromyalgia similarly escalated after 1987’s Black Monday, taxing the insurance system. In the early 2000’s we saw the dot-com crash and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome spike. Now we are seeing the effect of COVID-19 stress on WCB claims as well as short and long term disability systems. We will be seeing the long term effects of COVID-19 on WCB, short term and long term disability and absenteeism from work.


There is little debate that prolonged disability stretches healthcare dollars. Chronic Pain Syndrome is expensive. Annually resulting in $517,000,000 in direct costs to Alberta Health (not including unfunded liability) and $6,160,000,000 in combined direct/indirect costs to Alberta’s economy.


We, as healthcare professionals and Alberta residents, need to consider risk-management strategies that will benefit both patients and budgets. We need to examine the services provided to those in need and contain the cost of both healthcare visits and disability services.



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