Wellness Study Puts Price Tag on Unhealthy Behavior

John Commins, April 18, 2011

Everyone knows unhealthy behaviors can be costly. Now some of those costs have been calculated into dollars.

The Thomson Reuters Workforce Wellness Index estimates that employers spend an average of $670 annually per employee on medical care and pharmacy around six behavioral risk factors, with the top cost drivers identified as:

  • Obesity /body mass index ($400)
  • High blood sugar ($150)
  • Tobacco use ($100)

The remaining costs in the index were attributed to blood pressure, cholesterol, and alcohol use. Thomson Reuters tracked the behaviors from 2005-2009 using data from employer-sponsored health insurance plans. In 2009, about 14% of direct healthcare costs for the employed, privately insured population were associated with these six behavioral risk factors, the index showed.

Unfortunately, the index shows that the nation's workforce is not trending toward better health. Using a befuddling methodology that defies an easy explanation, Thomson Reuters said it fashioned an index where a score of 100 represents the "ideal state where there are no behavioral risk factors present in the population and no healthcare costs attributed to health risks." From 2005 to 2009, the index declined 2% from 86.4 to 84.4. Of course, the decline in overall health means an increase in health insurance costs for employers.

Despite the glum news, Raymond Fabius, MD, and CMO at Thomson Reuters, tells HealthLeaders Media he's "excited by the results."

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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