By, John Miller, Executive Director, MidAtlantic Business Group on Health
Like the rest of the country, Maryland businesses are feeling the sting of poor health. For example, Allegany County in Maryland has a smoking rate that is 37 percent higher than the rest of Maryland and a related Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) rate that is over twice the state’s average—the approximately 6,500 patients with COPD in Allegany County cost about $39,000,000 per year. Couple this with the fact that individuals with COPD have more days of lost productivity and the investment in the county’s future health makes sense to the bottom line of any employer.
Beyond smoking, businesses today should be concerned with their employee’s health for two reasons:
1. Unhealthy employees are driving up the cost of insurance premiums.
- Obese people spend 42 percent more on healthcare costs than healthy-weight people.
- Employees with diabetes can cost significantly more to insure: about $4413 more than those without.
2. Poor health is driving down the productivity of employers’ workforce
- Obesity-related job absenteeism costs $4.3 billion annually.
- As a person’s Body Mass Index (BMI) increases, so do the number of sick days, medical claims and healthcare costs associated with that person.
Let’s return to the Allegany County example. To help address the health of Maryland, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene applied for a Community Transformation Grant (CTG) from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The state is receiving $1,945,289 to serve the entire state of Maryland minus large counties, an estimated population of 1,900,000. The State is dispersing this money to counties expanding efforts in tobacco-free living, active living and healthy eating and quality clinical and other preventive services.
This is the kind of funding that will help Allegany and similar counties help people who want to get/remain healthy and quit tobacco do so.
In addition, the CTG has funded a series of “Healthy Business” forums, where small businesses in less populous areas can learn about free resources and assistance, and hear from colleagues and neighbors who are successfully helping their employees be healthier. For some time, worksite wellness programs have been underused by small businesses. While large employers have the knowledge, resources and clout to implement worksite health promotion programs, small businesses, which are most affected by absenteeism and lost productivity, are significantly challenged.
Both small and large businesses will improve from investments in prevention at the worksite and in the community. Research has shown that worksite health promotion programs reduce absenteeism by 27 percent—which will help any business, large or small, increase productivity.
Quite simply, community prevention is huge for small businesses. Community prevention provides a larger pool of healthier workers and dependents, and reduces absenteeism. In addition to the productivity boost, small businesses healthcare costs are community rated, and they can only get savings on costs if the entire community improves its health together. In short, by improving the health of the neighborhoods workers live in, businesses will reduce healthcare costs, even if those people accessing community wellness programs actually work for a different company!
A comprehensive investment in proven community prevention is also important to larger business because they need the public health prevention infrastructure, as they have numerous employees working remotely that they only see intermittently and dependents whose healthcare they cover that they never see. So, providing a gym onsite won’t scratch the surface of improving total employee and dependent wellness – you have to reach them where they live, learn and play.
Community wellness is one of the most important investments a business of any size can make.