Keeping healthy employees healthy is key to cost containment,
ANN ARBOR, Mich.Programs designed to help
employees quit smoking, lower stress or lose weight have long been
a staple of work site health promotion. Reducing health risks has
seemed to be the key to containing health care costs.
Risk reduction is just part of the equation, say
experts at the University of Michigan Health Management Research
Center. It is even more critical to prevent low-risk individuals
from becoming high-risk, HMRC Director Dee W. Edington said.
"Low-risk people make up about 60 percent
of almost every employee population," Edington said. "Helping
them maintain their healthy status needs to be a high priority component
of every work site health care program investment."
The HMRC groups individuals based on the number
of risk factors they report on a health risk appraisalrisk
factors such as smoking, alcohol use, body weight and medical problems,
as well as attitudinal factors like job satisfaction and life satisfaction.
People with zero to two risk factors are termed low-risk; three
or four are medium-risk, and five or more are high risk.
"In every analysis, individuals who are
at low-risk status for any of the risk factors or behaviors are
less costly than those at high-risk status," Edington said.
Many components of the typical work site health
program already promote low-risk maintenance, he said. These include
clinical preventive services, screening, physical activity spaces
and better nutritional options in cafeterias and vending machines.
Additional employee risk factors translate to
additional cost for employers.
"When individuals are grouped according
to the number of risk factors, the costs move higher for those at
increased risk levels. This holds true for medical costs as well
as productivity measures such as absence days, short- and long-term
disability, and worker's compensation. When groups of individuals
change their overall risk status, the cost measures described above
change in the same direction."
HMRC researchers are able to track changes in
risk status when employees of any given organization fill out two
or more health risk appraisals over a period of time. Repeat appraisal
participation provides an incentive for employees to monitor and
improve their health. It also shows employers whether more people
changed from high risk to low risk or in the other direction.
"If the cost of low-risk status is used
as a base, and all higher-risk employees moved to low-risk, assuming
costs follow risks, an organization could save up to 25 percent
in its health care costs and significantly improve productivity,"
"The Case for Low-Risk Maintenance"
by HMRC Director Dee W. Edington and Senior Research Analyst Shirley
Musich appeared in the April 2003 issue of Absolute Advantage, published
by Wellness Councils of America.
Contact Edington at email@example.com
or Shirley Musich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The HMRC phone is (734) 763-2462, and web address is http://www.umich.edu/~hmrc/
Contact: Colleen Newvine
Phone: (734) 647-4411