NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

To Cut Insurance Costs, Companies Help Workers Get Healthy

October 3, 2011

Companies nationwide are looking to trim their health insurance costs by combating chronic diseases -- such as diabetes, obesity and depression -- in their employees, reports USA Today.

The need for such steps was amplified again Tuesday as a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that health insurance premiums for families of four increased 9 percent this year.  The upward trend in health care costs can't all be blamed on growing doctors' bills.  So, employers have started to provide on-site medical visits, access to gyms, chronic-care plans, smoking-cessation programs and even discounts for those who buy a banana rather than a cookie.

  • For an employer, costs can be as much as 40 percent higher in one year for someone who is overweight because of all the issues associated with obesity, including diabetes, back problems, asthma, depression and heart disease, said Kenneth Thorpe, who co-directs Emory University's Center on Health Outcomes and Quality.
  • "Between 8 percent and 20 percent of health care costs is due to the persistent rise in obesity," Thorpe said.
  • As an example, he cited a study he published in the journal Health Affairs about an evidence-based program that reduced type 2 diabetes cases by 71 percent in Medicare beneficiaries older than 60.
  • It could save Medicare $2.3 billion over the next 10 years if pre-diabetic beneficiaries were enrolled, Thorpe said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a further incentive on Wednesday: It asked businesses to participate in a project to show what happens when private insurers coordinate with primary-care physicians to address health issues.  This means personalized care plans, electronic records and preventive care, as well as partnerships with large firms that can offer incentives to their employees.

Source: Kelly Kennedy, "To Cut Insurance Costs, Companies Help Workers Get Healthy," USA Today, September 29, 2011.

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