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What are your employees' most expensive health risk factors?

November 5, 2012
by Pamela Tabar, Associate Editor
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Almost one-quarter of workforce healthcare spending can be attributed to just 10 risk factors, according to researchers from Truven Health Analytics, American Specialty Health and Emory University’s Institute for Health and Productivity Studies.

The study, published in Monday’s online edition of Health Affairs journal, used a three-year span of data from seven corporations, totalling 92,486 employees. The average annual healthcare spending for the seven companies and their employees totaled $366 million. When health spending was tallied according to medical condition or health risk, data showed that 22.4 percent of the healthcare expenditures—or about $82 million—was spent on a short-list of 10 health risk factors.

Depression tops the list, averaging $2,185 more per year in medical expenditures—about 48% more than an employee without depression.

High blood glucose and hypertension are next, costing $1,653 and $1,378 more than a healthy worker, respectively. Obesity also earned a spot in the top four. Tobacco use—a longstanding target of corporate wellness incentives—falls within the top 10, as do physical inactivity and high stress.

The data seems to support the value of corporate health awareness and incentive programs that target modifiable health risk factors, encouraged by the Affordable Care Act as a way for employers to control healthcare spending. But with depression claiming the No. 1 spot, organizations that promote emotional health as well as physical health and that provide tools and schedule structures that minimize stress and burnout may be reducing a lot more more than employee turnover.

The study echoed a similar study conducted in 1998 by the Health Enhancement Research Organization, which linked almost one-quarter of healthcare spending to a list of specific risk factors.

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