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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Depression Is An Expensive Risk Factor For Employer Insurance Plans, But Less Than Obesity Or Physical Inactivity

Do you know someone who suffers from depression? While we all can sometimes feel sad, unhappy, or as we often say, "down in the dumps," clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for a longer period of time. For the majority of adults their everyday life includes "going to work," whether they are an employee or self-employed, clinical depression will have an impact on productivity. And it is important to remember that while bottom-line productivity is important, a new study now examines the cost of depression as a health risk factor and how it relates to health insurance expenditures for employee health plans.

Considering health risk factors

Much of the Affordable Care Act is yet to be put in place, but one important part of the Act encourages employers to be pro-active in health care preventative measures. A new study was published online in the November issue of Health Affairs: Ten Modifiable Health Risk Factors Are Linked To More Than One-Fifth of Employer-Employee Health Care Spending.

Study's details

This study was conducted by lead researcher Ron Z. Goetzel, a research professor and the director of Emory University's Institute for Health and Productivity Studies and a vice president of consulting and applied research at Truven Health Analytics, in Washington, D.C. According to the study's abstract:
"An underlying premise of the Affordable Care Act provisions that encourage employers to adopt health promotion programs is an association between workers’ modifiable health risks and increased health care costs."
Goetzel and his colleagues looked at the correlation between modifiable health risk and increased healthcare costs at seven organizations over three years.
  • The study surveyed 92,400 employees
  • The employers administered health assessments through the MarketScan database from 2005 to 2009.
  • Researchers did adjust for age, sex, health plan, location, industry type and other factors. 
  • Health risk factors studied were: High blood glucose, high blood pressure, obesity, tobacco use, physical inactivity, high cholesterol, poor nutrition, high alcohol use, stress, and depression.

Study's findings

According to a GlobeNewswire article the researchers found:
  1. The two health risk factors that contributed the most per capita per year to excess medical costs were obesity ($347) and physical inactivity ($178.6). Those were followed by depression ($128.2), tobacco use ($106.2), high blood glucose ($104.1), high blood pressure ($80.8) and stress ($38.3). 
  2. Persons with biometric values related to obesity, high blood pressure and high glucose had higher health care costs compared to those not at risk. Similarly, individuals with who were depressed, had high stress, smoked or were physically inactive also had higher medical costs.
  3. Physical inactivity and poor stress management also were cited as significant independent drivers of costs, and were also directly related to all the other risk factors in this study. 

Some final thoughts...

Hard numbers are always helpful. It is estimated that depressed employees make up 11% of the workforce. While medical costs associated with depression as a risk factor are high, these costs come in third behind obesity and physical inactivity.  If your employer offers any health promotion programs, carefully consider taking advantage of these programs. If you have a co-worker who you think would benefit from health promotion programs, encourage their participation.

Many years ago Benjamin Franklin offered this advice: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!  The same holds true today...

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