National Employee Well-Being Month
June 2018 marked the tenth annual National Employee Wellbeing Month (NEWM). NEWM spotlights the workplace’s role in helping to create healthier, happier employees. The month highlights how wellbeing-minded organizations lead to more productive, engaged workforces and create magnetic company cultures that drive recruitment and retention.
As we focus on employee well-being this month, we want to highlight an often-overlooked vehicle for promoting health among large swaths of the nation’s workforce: state employee health programs. State employee health benefit programs are an important target for improving weight-related health services for several reasons:
- The programs are big and expensive. All fifty states and the District of Columbia provide health insurance coverage for their state employees. State and local employee health plans cover about 10 percent of the total U.S. workforceand hold more than 20 percent of the nation’s pension assets. In 2013, state governments paid more than 80% of the aggregate $30.7 billion needed to insure our nation’s 2.7 million state-employee households.
- The programs are at increased risk for high-cost diseases. The prevalence of chronic diseases—including obesity, diabetes, coronary artery diseases, and osteoarthritis—is higher among public employees and their dependents than among private sector beneficiaries. This discrepancy is largely explained by the higher proportion of workers over 50 years of age employed by state governments and translates to annual per-member medical and prescription drug costs that were 20% higher than those faced by private sector employers in 2010.
- The programs are relatively stable. Faced with a high prevalence of chronic disease and low rates of turnover among state employees, state governments are well-positioned to realize substantial cost savings from value-based insurance designs that may elude employers in the private sector, where the median worker tenure approximates four years.
The health behaviors of employees and their dependents have a significant impact on health benefit costs and productivity. As large health care purchasers with a statewide pool of patients, state employee health plans have the potential to significantly impact the obesity epidemic. Well-designed health benefits coupled with promotion of wellness programs can encourage state employees to improve their health and reduce state healthcare costs. Adoption of health risk appraisals, reimbursement for disease management, and provision of on-site health care services has reduced medical costs by an average of $3.27 and absenteeism costs by approximately $2.73 for every dollar spent.
In our analysis of state employee health plans offered during the 2016/2017 plan year, coverage for obesity treatment services that prevent or delay the incidence of costly chronic diseases (e.g. type-II diabetes) remain conspicuously absent from many state plans. Whether shortchanging coverage for obesity treatments was an intentional decision or lack of oversight, mounting scientific evidence suggests that large employers who fail to provide their employees with access to comprehensive obesity care may do so at their own peril. Obesity is consistently cited as a top driver of unsustainable growth in healthcare costs. Environmental, behavioral, pharmacological, and surgical approaches to treating obesity should be a part of any employer’s plan to make their employee benefit systems effective, affordable, and sustainable.
Obesity is a complex, lifelong chronic disease that requires ongoing care. States wishing to support their employees’ efforts to achieve and maintain a healthy weight will need to invest in evidence-based clinical and community services that promote continuous engagement and foster permanent lifestyle changes. Initiatives like the My Healthy Weight Pledge demonstrate how states can work collaboratively to improve care for public employees, their dependents, and local taxpayers. Through our ongoing work to develop a standard of care for the treatment of adult obesity, we hope to provide employers and policymakers with a high-level example of the types of care plans should cover and guiding principles on how that care should be delivered to maximize its benefit for individuals with obesity.
To learn more about how you can support employee health during the 10th Annual Employee Well-Being Month and beyond, visit: www.employeewellbeingmonth.com/