Companies spent $2.5 billion to treat employees' asthma, diabetes, hypertension, mental health and substance abuse and back disorders over the course of two years, according to a new study.
UnitedHealthcare reviewed all claims issued by the Health Action Council's 57 nationwide employer members—which are responsible for coverage of 281,000 individuals—to find that more than 60% of workers struggle with at least one of these chronic conditions, making them the top cost drivers in employer healthcare. By studying which populations are most impacted by which diseases, Craig Kurtzweil, vice president of UnitedHealthcare's Center for Advanced Analytics, said he aims to help employers and payers lower their overall health spend by structuring targeted benefits packages to meet the needs of these workers.
"We see healthcare as an asset to a business, not just an expense item. If done right, if we truly can work together to identify populations that need to improve their health, we think we can lower healthcare costs," Kurtzweil said. "A healthier workforce is a more productive workforce."
Researchers found asthma was 20% more prevalent among Black employees than those of other races. Black individuals were also more likely to require asthma treatment than white respondents, with 71% of Black respondents suffering from flare-ups that required hospitalization, emergency department or office visits compared to 56% of whites. While Black children and adults generally needed more treatment, they were less commonly prescribed inhalers—86% of Black children were prescribed inhalers compared to 93% of white children.
Asthma rates also varied by individuals' location and income class in the study. Workers located in suburban Maryland, northeastern Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix and Ohio had the highest rates of asthma in the nation. Lower-income patients were less likely to be prescribed inhalers and more likely to require treatment—56% of those in the lowest income bracket required treatment, compared to 33% of respondents earning the highest income.