STRESS: Study Findings May Prompt Action By Employers
A study published in this month's Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that employees suffering from stress, depression and heart disease had medical bills nearly three times higher than healthier coworkers. The Wall Street Journal reports that the study, the largest of its kind to examine the "direct economic costs of health risks," may renew employers' interest in prevention programs to help "control health costs and improve productivity." D'Ann Whitehead, manager of preventive health services at Chevron Corp., said, "'We've pretty much milked all that we're going to get' from pressing health plans to keep premiums and use of medical services low. 'We've got to look at other ways of keeping costs down. What we can contribute is healthier employees.'" Roche Holding Ltd. launched a program called Choosing Health to help employees at risk of preventable diseases reduce their risk. Stephen Grossman, vice president of human resources for Roche, said, "you can cluster your employee population into some distinct categories of risk so it can direct you to some targeted prevention." Stephanie Pronk, a benefits consultant from William Mercer, said employees must be convinced that "health promotion isn't just a corporate cost-saving strategy, but a 'benefit for them from a health perspective. Otherwise, they're not going to buy into it.'"
An Apple A Day...
The researchers used data from 46,000 employee surveys about health habits, blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure, and then tracked employees' health care costs for the following three years. They found that workers with "stress and depression [had] costs nearly 2.5 times higher" than those without, and those at risk of cardiovascular disease "incurred medical costs more than three times those of low risk workers." Ron Goetzel, the study's lead author and vice president of Medstat Group, said, "Very little in the U.S. is being devoted to prevention activities. There's an assumption that they cost money and you don't get a lot back from your investment." The study was sponsored by Health Enhancement Resource Organization, a coalition of more than 30 employers and health care providers dedicated to "increasing the role of prevention in the health care system" (Winslow, Wall Street Journal, 10/16).