Sept. 11 Attacks, Anthrax May Fuel Increased Health Care Costs
Some analysts predict that the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the "spreading anthrax scare," which together have increased doctor visits, emergency room visits and prescriptions, "could mean larger bills for employers and heftier insurance premiums," USA Today reports. In the past few weeks, prescriptions for antibiotics, including the anthrax drug Cipro, have increased 25% to 30% nationwide. More patients also have visited doctors' offices and emergency rooms. USA Today reports that an additional increase in health care costs "would be bad news" for U.S. employers, as many analysts predicted even before Sept. 11 that premium rates would increase 13% or more next year. "The more I look at what's going on ... the employer costs are going to be nudged even farther into the high teens" as a result of recent events, Ed Kaplan of Segal Co. said. He estimated that the incidents could increase health insurance premiums by 1% to 3% next year. However, some analysts disagreed. "It's massively premature to say that it will have a cost or impact on employers' health care costs," Blaine Bos of William M. Mercer said. He pointed out that most of the increased health services used since Sept. 11 are "lower-cost items" such as doctor visits and generic anti-anxiety drugs.
Meanwhile, employee productivity "ground to a halt" in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the two weeks after the attacks, health problems such as fatigue, depression and stomach pain "more than doubled the average number of unproductive work hours." A weekly national productivity survey of 4,485 employees conducted by Advance PCS found that health problems led to a loss of 4.5 productive hours per employee the week after the Sept. 11 attacks, more than double the 2.1 hours lost the week before the attacks. "Our sense is that even in the third and fourth weeks, (health-related productivity problems) were about 10% to 15% higher than average," Walter Stewart of the AdvancePCS Center for Work and Health said, adding, "It's almost as though being on guard or vigilant has some cost associated with it" (Appleby, USA Today, 10/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.