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Healthcare Strategies Vital to Business Bottom Line
November 14, 2013 by Ann Wishart | No Comments

“Chronic-disease people cost employers four times more than healthy employees.”

Bill Fisher offered Geauga County employers the best prescription for their escalating health care costs and headaches caused by the American Healthcare Reform Act.

Have healthy employees.

From a bottom-line point of view, it is large health claims that have been driving up insurance premium rates, said Fisher, senior consultant to Oswald Companies and Associates insurance firm.

“$250,000 to $300,000 claims are common,” he told businesspeople at the Geauga Growth Partnership meeting last Friday.

While cancer and heart disease are still at the top of the list for life-threatening ailments, costs have increased dramatically.

“What’s changed is how they are treated,” Fischer said.

Expensive specialty drugs can run $3,000 to $5,000 per patient and there are 6,000 specialty treatments in the pipeline, he said.

Disease Prevention Vital

Getting costs down requires a multi-tiered approach customized to each company, Fisher said.

“It’s time for companies to play offense rather than defense,” said Aaron Witwer, health management consultant for Oswald. “Seventy to 90 percent of the most prevalent diseases are preventable.”

Partly because of looming healthcare reform and the recession, many people never go to a doctor unless they are very sick, or, they don’t have insurance so they just go to the emergency room, Fisher said.

“They need a better relationship with a doctor,” he said.

About 75 percent of chronic disease in America is directly related to an epidemic of obesity, Witwer said.

In 1990, between 20 and 24 percent of Ohio’s population was obese and today, 25 to 29 percent of Ohioans are overweight, he said.

A tape measure is the simplest way to measure obesity, Fisher said.

The waist measurement for women should be less than 35 inches and for men, 40 inches, he said.

Standard doctor’s office tests and monitoring will show the danger signs. If a patient has three or more of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high glucose or low HDL cholesterol levels, he or she is at risk of serious health problems, Fisher said.

Diet and Exercise

Staying healthy requires weight control, i.e. healthy diet and exercise.

“I’m not saying this is easy. It’s difficult to eat healthy in America,” Fisher said, adding people need to be educated about the benefits of good nutrition.

“Chronic-disease people cost employers four times more than healthy employees,” Witwer said.

Besides insurance premiums, absen-teeism is expensive.

Across America, there are 45 million avoidable sick days every year, which directly affects production, Witwer said.

An Ohio State University study reported an employee who uses tobacco costs an employer $5,816 per year more than a non-user because of illness, absenteeism and lower productivity, he said.

“In a small company, even one person being out makes a big difference,” Witwer said.

Other reasons for absenteeism and higher healthcare costs include depression, anxiety, stress, migraines, respiratory illness, arthritis, diabetes, back and neck pain, and muscular-skeletal problems — many of which are related to being overweight, he said.

“We can impact this by having healthy employees. Management needs to help,” Witwer said.

Although the studies do not include the very old and very young in their tables, Fisher said individual businesses are still affected.

“Northeast Ohio has an aging workforce. That absolutely has an impact on costs,” he said.

The average age of employees in a Northeast Ohio company is 49 today and as those workers get older, they develop more health issues, Fisher said.

Healthier Cultures

Changing the health culture of a company requires different strategies, Fisher said.

If a company can create an envir-onment that encourages employees to be healthier, everybody gains, Witwer said.

Besides utilizing peer pressure and competition between divisions, he recommended three steps:

• Wellness program creation including health risk assessments;

• Preventive screenings including blood work and a new process called inflammation testing; and

• Smart health-care consumerism.

Other possibilities to address the problem include tobacco cessation programs, sending health newsletters home so the spouse will see them, offering incentives to individuals or groups that participate in the programs and show improved health, and encouraging the use of generic drugs.

The USDA requires to have the identical ingredients of brand name drugs, Fisher said.

It is hard to quantify the payback on some of the programs, but an effort has to be made for the health of the company as well as the individuals.

“What is the alternative?” Witwer asked.

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