Wellness Works!

Employers Can Help to Prevent the High Costs of Chronic Diseases

Pre-disease conditions can be managed before they develop into costly chronic diseases. Most employees with elevated cholesterol, elevated blood pressure or those that are overweight don’t normally incur costs to the health plan. But left untreated, these pre-disease risks can turn into high cost diseases. Because people are working longer today, the workforce and the employers are impacted by chronic diseases.

Statistics on adult Americans from the National Institute of Health are staggering:

  • 50 million Americans (one in four adults) have high blood pressure
  • 79 million adults over age 20 have pre-diabetes
  • 25.8 million Americans have diabetes (8.3% of the U.S. population). Of these, 7 million don’t know they have the disease
  • Over 2/3 of adults are overweight or obese

Just as we expect our schools to teach our children appropriate behaviors, we now expect that employers will “educate” their employees in lifestyle changes that will avoid high dollar medical conditions. Of course, the burden of non-compliance ultimately falls on the shoulders of the employer with high claims costs and premium increases in the double digits.

“Preconditions are generally easier to manage and have the potential to be reversed. Research has shown that it is possible to delay or avoid diabetes in people with pre-diabetes who are treated with intensive lifestyle interventions. In fact, the Diabetes Prevention Program, a three year research study, showed that lifestyle intervention worked better than medication at preventing the progression to diabetes among 3,200 non-diabetic people with elevated blood sugar. The lifestyle intervention was estimated to be more cost-effective than taking the medication.” According to Janet Greenhut, M.D., MPH, senior medical consultant at Wellness & Prevention, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company.

What can employers do to try to attempt to prevent chronic diseases? Employee awareness and education are paramount. Corporate wellness programs can be initiated that try to create a culture of wellness. It is also important that “the word” comes from the top. Senior management should be front and center in the initiative. Programs can include: biometric screenings (the best tool for awareness of pre-disease risks), blood pressure checks, Health Risk Assessments, lunch and learns, challenges and incentives for participation as well as ongoing positive changes.