Thursday, April 21, 2011

Declining Health of U.S. Workers Is Driving Up Employer Costs

The unhealthy behaviors of the U.S. workforce cost employers an average of $670 per employee annually, according to the March 2011 Thomson Reuters Workforce Wellness Index.

The index gauges six behavioral risk factors to track the collective health of working Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance―and the costs associated with less-than-optimal health.

An index score of 100 represents the ideal state where there are no behavioral risk factors present in the population and, therefore, no health care costs attributed to health risks. From 2005 to 2009, the index declined 2 percent from 86.4 to 84.4.

This decline in overall population health―as measured by body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, and tobacco and alcohol use―contributes to rising health care costs for U.S. employers.

For instance, a Duke University study (published in the Archives of Internal Medicine) found a correlation between a worker's BMI, which is used to measure obesity, and the amount of money spent on workers’ compensation claims for that worker—with costs approaching $51,000 for obese workers vs. $7,500 for workers with normal or average weight.

In 2009, about 14 percent of direct health care costs for the employed, privately insured population were associated with these six behavioral risk factors, according to Thomson Reuters’ analysis. That amounts to $670 per employee, with $400 of the overall cost attributed to high BMI. Elevated blood glucose was the second most significant factor, accounting for nearly $150 per employee per year.

"This analysis shows that employers striving to reduce health care costs would be wise to address the behavioral risk prevalence of their workforce," said Dr. Raymond Fabius, chief medical officer at Thomson Reuters. “When employers, insurers and others take a close look at how their beneficiaries compare with national norms, they can begin to identify and target specific problem areas.”

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