Small and Mid-Size Business Group Health & Wellness Specialists
An epidemic of ‘lifestyle diseases’ has developed in the United States. Unhealthy living characterized by poor nutrition (80% national incidence), excessive food intake (80% national incidence), constant inactivity (78% national incidence), lack of exercise, stress, and tobacco use, among others, has caused the prevalence of chronic disease to skyrocket over the last several decades (3, 8). Overweight, obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), bad cholesterol levels, diabetes, depression, repetitive motion disorders, postural dysfunction, orthopedic limitations, and recurring physical pain in the neck, back or body are ubiquitous among our workforce (3, 9). 86% of all full-time employees in the U.S. are overweight and suffer from a preventable chronic health condition(s) (9).
Preventable, chronic diseases are an ever-escalating socioeconomic burden. This holds true especially for U.S. business groups: according to the National Commission on Productivity, health care in the US has exceeded 1 trillion dollars annually and businesses pay about 55% of this cost. About 70% of this spending is directly attributed to unhealthy, self-inflicted lifestyle behaviors. Employer health care premiums have risen by a staggering 113% in the last decade alone (10). Sadly, 87.5% of health care costs are preventable (5). There is an additional economic hardship for business group employers from significant loss of productivity due to absenteeism (absence from work) and presenteeism (reduced performance while at work). Fulltime US workers who are overweight or obese with other co-morbid chronic health conditions miss an estimated 450 million additional days of work each year resulting in more than $153 billion in lost productivity (9). Productivity losses alone for employees with chronic back pain have been estimated to be about $1,250 per male employee and about $800 per female employee per year (6), and according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, a simple back strain costs, on average, $8,650 per claim. Preventable health conditions have substantial direct and indirect costs (1) which are crushing both the business group employers and their employees.
What Is Being Done
The good news is that chronic health diseases are preventable, manageable, and in many cases, reversible. But this is only possible if employees decide to make the necessary behavior changes and take part in appropriate individual-specific treatment; just as importantly, that business group employers make this help available to them. Today, health and wellness has become common among employers in the US with 74% offering some sort of wellness to their employees (4), even with the industry level of service being generally hollow. Health and wellness is viewed as a primary tool in a viable business strategy to significantly reduce staggering direct and indirect costs. In addition to employers, health insurance issuers are actively promoting and incentivizing the incorporation of health and wellness in each of their business groups. Harvard health economist Katherine Baicker led a critical meta-analysis study that is considered the gold standard in measuring wellness return on investment, and it found that for every dollar spent on workplace health and wellness, “medical costs fall by about $3.27 . . . and absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73.” (2).
According to the landmark 2013 RAND study (sponsored: Department of Labor; Department of Health and Human Services), it has been found that the significant and positive effects from lifestyle management interventions in the workplace are sustainable over time and clinically meaningful. The results confirm that workplace health and wellness can help contain the current epidemic of lifestyle-related diseases, the main driver of premature morbidity and mortality and astronomical, unsustainable health care costs in the United States (3). In response to the soaring health spending, the Affordable Care Act has numerous provisions intended to contain health care cost growth and expand health prevention and promotion activities; incentives for small and mid-size business groups are especially attractive (7). Health and Wellness is absolutely critical for employee health and employer bottom-line.
1. Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services. National health expenditures and selected economic indicators, levels and average annual percent change: Selected calendar years 1990-2013. Washington, DC: Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Office of the Actuary; 2004.
2. Katherine, B., Cutler, D., Zirui Song.2010. Workplace Wellness Programs Can Generate Savings. Harvard Health Affairs 29(2): 304-311. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn3:HUL.InstRepos: 5345879
3. Mattke, S., et al. Workplace Wellness Programs Study: Final Report. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2013. http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR254
4. Mattke, S., Schnyer, K., Van Busum. A Review of the U.S. Workplace Wellness Market. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2012. http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/workplacewellnessmarketre view2012.pdf
5. McLaughlin, Patrick.Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne (IPFW) Study, 2011. http://cardinalscholar.bsu.edu/handle/handle/176769
6. Pizzi, Laura T., et al.Work Loss, Healthcare Utilization, and Costs among US Employees with Chronic Pain.Disease Management & Health Outcomes.September 2005, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 201-208. http://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00115677-200513030-00005?no-access=true
7. Public Law 111-148, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, March 23, 2010. As of February 28, 2012: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-111publ148/pdf/PLAW-111publ148.pdf
8. The Culprit & The Cure by Steven G. Aldana, PhD, 2005
9. Witters, D. & Sangeeta Agrawal. Unhealthy U.S. Workers’ Absenteeism Costs $153 Billion, 2011. Gallup. http://www.gallup.com/poll/150026/unhealthy-workers-absenteeism-costs-153-billion.aspx
10. 2015 Employer Health Benefits Survey.Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. http://kff.org/health-costs/report/2015-employer-health-benefits-survey/