Modifiable Health Risk Factors Are Clear Predictors of Higher Health Care Costs for Employers, According to Healthyroads HERO II Study

SAN DIEGONovember 5, 2012 — Employers who have not yet adopted programs that encourage workers to reduce their health risks for obesity, heart disease, stroke, psychosocial problems and other preventable and modifiable health conditions may experience health care cost increases of more than $887 per employee per year over employers who have such worksite programs in place.

According to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs (November 2012), 22.4 percent ($82 MM) of total medical costs ($366 MM) spent annually by employers and employees at seven U.S. companies studied was attributable to 10 modifiable health risk factors: obesity, physical inactivity, depression, tobacco use, high blood glucose, high blood pressure, stress, high total cholesterol, poor diet and high alcohol consumption.

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).

“The Healthyroads HERO II study results further validate that modifiable health risk factors are some of the best predictors of higher health care costs,” said lead author Ron Goetzel, Ph.D., vice president of consulting and applied research, Truven Health Analytics, and director of the Emory University Institute for Health and Productivity Studies (IHPS). “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.”

“The study serves as a good guidepost for employers seeking to reduce their health expenditures, especially when you look at these health risks in combination,” said co-author Douglas Metz, DC, chief health services officer, executive vice president at Healthyroads. “We all know that individuals with one risk for a specific problem, such as heart disease, often have additional risks also associated with that problem. For example, there are seven combined risk factors that contribute to heart disease (obesity, high stress, tobacco use, high blood pressure, high blood glucose, high total cholesterol and physical inactivity). Our study associated total increased costs for these combined risks at $213.6 per capita per year.”

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, according to Dr. Metz.

According to Healthyroads and American Specialty Health Chairman and CEO George DeVries, the findings are particularly important today because employer health care costs continue to rise at unsustainable levels, and health expenditures in the United States, which neared $2.6 trillion in 2010, have been growing an average of 2 percentage points faster than the economy.

“All evidence indicates that employers who do not enact programs that help reduce these key health risks will likely spend millions more for health care costs in the long run,” DeVries said.

The Healthyroads HERO II study observed the results of a health risk assessment instrument that screened for 10 modifiable health risk factors among 92,486 employees at the seven organizations, contributing 272,874 person years of data over an average of three years. The link between health risks and costs was first established in the widely cited HERO study published in 1998 in The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

“Our new study replicated the prior analysis using more contemporaneous data, and asked whether the relationships between risks and costs still holds true,” added Dr. Goetzel. “The results definitively concluded that multiple health risk factors are associated with high health expenditures.”

To access the full Health Affairs study, please visit: http://interest.truvenhealth.com/forms/THA-201211GoetzelHealthAffairsWhitePaper

 
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