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Prevention the Key to Controlling Healthcare Costs

October 19, 2010 / Corporate Wellness

On October 15th I spoke at the 2010 Integrated Care Summit in Washington, DC. The message I wanted to convey is that large companies are forced to scale back health coverage and employees are left stranded, picking up the difference. The stakes for American business are at an all time high. Unmanaged, preventable healthcare costs are one of the largest drains on corporate income statements. And, those costs don’t just threaten profitability. They threaten jobs, and entire family’s livelihoods. Employers have the power to turn the tables.  They play a vital role in encouraging healthy behaviors and must start by creating a culture of prevention in the workplace.

Even amidst political and economic uncertainty, history repeats itself year after year. More than 75 percent of today’s healthcare costs stem from preventable, chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer – and they’re largely driven by our own personal health behaviors.  And while companies are paying for employee healthcare coverage at amounts rising more than 10 percent each year they’re absorbing 70-80 percent of these cost increases.  At the same time, employees are incurring higher out-of-pocket costs and larger shares of their premiums. The Kaiser Family Foundation found the average family coverage premium increased 131 percent from 1999-2009, while worker contributions increased 128 percent.

It’s clear employers can no longer shoulder this burden alone and with the US median wage at about $43,000 per year, employees can’t bear much more, either. The good news is that companies can take action and impact the prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases and their resulting medical and productivity costs by getting employees to make healthy behavior changes.

Savvy companies across the country are using innovative, technology-based employee health programs to build this culture of prevention.  These programs go beyond traditional wellness programs by motivating entire employee populations – not just sub-sets like smokers or diabetics – to participate through meaningful and affordable incentives. The programs are measurable, and help both companies and workers quantifiable track progress and program impact.  And they’re manageable, so organizations can integrate various, splintered wellness efforts and incentives structures.  When employed, such strategies fuel long-term healthy behavior change and healthcare cost reductions for employees and companies alike.

Post a comment and tell us what you think about creating a culture of prevention in the workplace.

John W. Robitscher, MPH |

I am gravely concerned that the dialogue today regarding healthcare has focused almost exclusively on how we pay – and not the fact that health is much more than the medical care we receive – rather the support of health through prevention of disease or the complications of disease. If current policies and conditions hold true, by the year 2017, our nation’s health care spending is expected to reach over $4.3 trillion or $13,101 per American.

At the turn of the 20th century, the major causes of death and disease were markedly
different from today. Today the challenges from infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, diarrhea and similarly transmitted diseases have been far surpassed by chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease & stroke, and cancer.
• Seven out of 10 people, or more than 1.7 million, die of a chronic disease.
• Five chronic diseases – heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease, and diabetes – cause more than 2/3 of all deaths each year.
• One-third of the years of potential life lost before age 65 are due to chronic
diseases.
However, deaths alone don’t convey the full impact of chronic disease. These serious
diseases, by definition, are often lifelong conditions that are often treatable but not
curable. An even greater burden befalls Americans from the disability and diminished
quality of life resulting from chronic disease. This burden is shared by adults,
adolescents and children of all ages and the attendant economic impact is borne primarily by taxpayers and employers.
• More than 133 million Americans live with at least one chronic condition.
• Diabetes is the primary cause of amputation, kidney failure, and adult blindness.
• Arthritis is the number one cause of disability, affecting nearly one of every three
adults.
• Stroke has left 1 million Americans with disabilities; many can no longer perform
daily tasks, such as walking or bathing, without help. Almost every family is adversely affected by chronic diseases in one way or another –through the death of a loved one; family members with life-long illness, disability, orcompromised quality of life; or the huge personal and community financial burden wrought by these diseases. When we measure our nation’s health not just by the length of life, but by the quality of that life, we cannot ignore the urgency of chronic disease. Taken in its entirety, chronic diseases account for more than 75% of the nation’s health care costs – or over $2 trillion in 2005.

As a nation, we have emphasized expensive cures for disease rather than cost-effective prevention of disease. At the heart of our system is the traditional physician-patient interaction. While effective, these interactions occur infrequently at best and typically last no longer than 30 minutes every several months. Whether sick or well, an individual spends far more time living in other environments (school, work, neighborhood), making independent decisions that affect his or her health and he or she does so with minimal training or information.

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