PLUS: How to Reduce Health Care Insurance Costs

Chronic diseases are responsible for 83 percent of all health care spending.

In the next decade — even in the next year — many Americans will see their lives change due to the onset of a chronic condition or a disabling disease. And in the future, if they’ve got a history of medical problems, their ability to get and keep health insurance coverage may be of special concern.

As it stands, changing demographic factors and trends in chronic disease prevalence are huge contributors to rising health care costs. Chronic diseases are responsible for 83 percent of all health care spending, while 96 percent of Medicare spending and 83 percent of Medicaid spending is for people with chronic health conditions.

In 2012, national spending on health care rose to an average of $9,000 per person. Significant cost-drivers include high pharmaceutical costs. But some chronic diseases are preventable, and employer wellness programs have been shown to reduce costs. As employees fret about rising medical costs, they can help by taking some control of their lives. Instead of just “managing the unexpected,” they can maintain and regulate their own health to help lower out-of-pocket costs.

Impact of Diabetes

In 2010, the estimated number of people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in the U.S.  was 19 million, with an estimated 7 million cases undiagnosed. This is a preventable disease, for the most part.

Impact of Obesity

It is estimated that 65 percent of American adults over age 20 are overweight, while 30 percent are obese. People who are overweight have been linked to increased risk for heart disease, stroke, several types of cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and other chronic conditions.

Impact of Cardiovascular Disease

Heart disease and stroke — the principal components of cardiovascular disease — are the first and third leading causes of death, respectively, for both men and women in the United States, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all deaths. Ninety percent of all strokes can be prevented through pre-screening as part of a wellness program that many insurance companies offer.

Wellness Programs

While each wellness program is different, most have a core set of program elements which include: tobacco prevention and/or cessation; physical activity; nutrition and healthy eating education; blood pressure and cholesterol control assistance; and disease management. Additionally, many of these programs offer tools to assist in meeting health goals.

Public and private sector initiatives have shown that wellness programs can result in significant cost savings through reduced short-term sick leave and increased worker productivity (and employee retention). To be effective, wellness program results must be measurable, evidenced-based, and they must reward behavioral changes. Studies show that changing people’s habits is much more successful when there is a group component for accountability. db

— David Littmann