We’ve all heard the phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’, and it’s no surprise that’s it’s a saying that continues to be used today. For prevention has long been regarded the best way to save lives and (from an employer’s persspective at least), help contain healthcare costs. In simple terms, when people take steps to prevent serious illnesses, the strain on the healthcare system and associated costs decrease.
But all of this has changed in recent years with Covid-19.
Not only has prevention been difficult (it’s a virus that’s been incredibly difficult to avoid), but we’re starting see that on top of the overwhelming cost it’s had on human life, Covid-19 has resulted in soaring financial costs. At its height, the pandemic cost businesses in the U.S. nearly $1 billion per week according to data from the Integrated Benefits Institute.
The need to manage healthcare spending
The financial burden of Covid-19 on employers has magnified the need to manage healthcare spending. That’s because the chronic conditions created by the virus have resulted in something of a double whammy: chronic conditions increase the risk of severe Covid-19 itself, and Covid-19 also making it harder for employers and employees to monitor and manage any conditions they may already have.
As data analysis by Springbuk reveals, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes (also see below), are two of the most common comorbid conditions (that is, conditions that exist simultaneously), in individuals who develop severe Covid-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified diabetes as a risk factor for severe Covid-19. Hypertension is not only a possible risk factor for severe Covid-19, but is also a risk factor for several conditions that are associated with severe Covid-19, including cerebrovascular disease, kidney disease, and heart disease.
Employers need to act
Even before the pandemic, chronic diseases had an outsized influence on healthcare spending in the U.S. For example, a 2016 study by the state of Massachusetts projected that the state could spend as much as $870 billion on chronic diseases over the next 25 years.
The pandemic has exacerbated those costs. One group of researchers described the danger of Covid-19 to those with pre-existing conditions starkly, saying “comorbidities lead the Covid-19 patient into a vicious infectious circle of life and are substantially associated with significant morbidity and mortality.” Patients with these comorbidities must be especially vigilant to avoid the virus, given their higher risk of serious health complications.
It all means employers that wish to keep ongoing healthcare costs in check should redouble their efforts to reduce risk factors and manage these conditions in their employee populations to avoid significantly more volatile healthcare costs in the coming years.
Diabetes and hypertension
To illustrate this, the impacted management of individuals with diabetes and hypertension is just one area employers need to now be more vigilant.
More than 100,000 Americans die each year from diabetes. It is the most costly condition in the U.S., with about one-quarter of all healthcare spending in the country going toward treating it – a total cost of $237 billion each year.
Similarly, hypertension contributes to nearly 500,000 deaths each year and makes up a large portion of healthcare spending in the U.S., with estimates of total costs reaching $131 billion per year.
Hypertension and Type 2 diabetes already required constant management. However, it has now been estimated that the pandemic has put in jeopardy the health of the almost half of adults in the United States (47%) who have hypertension and the 10% who have diabetes (with the vast majority having Type 2 diabetes).
In fact, blood pressure control worsened in the first nine months of the pandemic compared with a similar time period in the prior year. Meanwhile, deaths from diabetes that were unrelated to Covid-19 jumped 17% in the first year of the pandemic.
Type 2 diabetes and hypertension pose large costs
On these conditions alone, businesses are paying significantly more for healthcare.
And then there’s the cost of illness on productivity. Research also suggests that those who suffer from chronic conditions are less productive, costing organizations money.
As a result, those employers who can work with employees to prevent Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, or can help their employees with these conditions manage them better, will not only improve employees’ quality of life but also reduce healthcare costs.
Taking action can save lives and control costs
Employers can contribute to the health of their workforce and decrease healthcare costs by taking action that will slow or prevent them altogether.
In fact, up to 70% of healthcare spending can be attributed to lifestyle and behavior choices.
One way for employers to decrease overall costs is to invest in employee wellness programs. These programs could aid employees in making lifestyle changes that can positively impact health while decreasing costs for employers.