One fourth of the dollars and cents employers and their employees are spending on healthcare is tied to unhealthy behavior. That’s the conclusion an exhaustive study published in the November issue of Health Affairs concludes – ten modifiable behaviors consume 22% of all employer/employee costs. Obesity and inactivity, by themselves, lead the bad behavior pack and drive 13% of all costs.
The study, conducted from 2005-2009, was comprised of over 90,000 workers from a variety of industries, regions and wage scales. Using data from health risk assessments (HRAs), it classified study participants into either ‘high-risk’ or ‘low-risk’ categories and then compared the associated healthcare costs for each risk factor between the two groups.
The study’s summation of the financial impact by risk type includes:
When factoring in the 5-7% annual healthcare cost inflation since 2009, total cost burden across all ten risk factors in 2013 would rise from $887 to $1,131 per person per year.
The findings from this study demonstrate the significant opportunity employers can realize to lower their health care expenditures. While certain risk factors have a greater individual affect on health care expenditures (i.e. depression and high blood glucose), the high relative prevalence of obesity and physical inactivity create an even wider opportunity for improvement and resulting financial rewards. (Note: In this study, those classified as high risk in obesity had a BMI over 30 and those classified as high risk in physical inactivity reported exercising less than three days a week.)
For years, employers have focused on addressing chronic conditions as the shortest, most viable path to healthcare cost control. This study illuminates a divergent reality and emerging trend – helping employees shed pounds and hit the gym may provide an even greater net effect on the bottom line. It’s also the one shot we may have of avoiding the even higher prevalence chronic condition rates on the other side of these morphing (and costly) lifestyle risks.
- Jeff Dobro, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, RedBrick Health