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Diabetes: The Costly Health Care Crisis at Your Door

A staggering 29 million Americans have diabetes, and a further 86 million have pre-diabetes, which is defined as a blood sugar level that is higher than normal but not yet high enough to qualify as type 2 diabetes, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While these numbers are staggering in and of itself, it is of particular concern to employers since together these two groups represent approximately 45 percent of the US workforce.

The total cost of diabetes rose to $327 billion in 2017, up 26 percent from the same period five years earlier, according to results of the American Diabetes Association’s Economic Cost of Diabetes in the US in 2017 report. This figure includes $237 billion in direct medical costs and $90 billion in decreased productivity for businesses.

With almost half of the workforce either experiencing or at risk for diabetes, employers are in a unique position to influence the course of their workers’ health and attempt to regulate their own spending.

For adults covered by employer-sponsored insurance, the spending difference between people with and without diabetes averages in excess of $10,000 per person, according to a report by the Health Care Cost Institute. Among those already diagnosed with diabetes, hospital inpatient care and prescription medications to treat the complications of diabetes are tied for first place, representing 30 percent each of total medical expenditures. Spending on anti-diabetic agents and diabetes supplies are responsible for a further 15 percent in spending, while physician office visits account for 13 percent of spending.

With this in mind, the biggest cost savings could be achieved by preventing the disease altogether. The CDC recommends first surveying employees to determine the percentage who have undergone diabetes screening, such as blood glucose testing, as well as collecting data on obesity, nutrition and current physical activity levels. This data can then be used to create a “baseline group data on employee health” and form a good jumping off point for targeted employee wellness initiatives.

Studies profiled by the CDC suggest that “sustained lifestyle changes that included modest weight loss and physical activity substantially reduced progression to type 2 diabetes among adults who were at very high risk.” Employers should look for programs that promote these lifestyle changes, as well as include some degree of counseling as an effective tool for delaying or preventing the progression to diabetes.

Among those that already have diabetes, e-learning courses have been found to be very effective at teaching participants about their disease and how to best manage it so that they avoid costly hospital stays and complications. According to an article published in Corporate Wellness Magazine, “unlike traditional classes, online learning is reasonably priced and allows for group price reductions…[participants] can receive interactive skill practice and learning with all of the tools and support needed to defeat pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome from the convenience of their own homes.”

The issue with implementing a program such as this for your employees – especially if you are a small business owner – is that these types of programs aren’t always offered to you, and even if they are, they usually come at a price that completely defeats the purpose (not so much for your employees, but for you if you were hoping that you would see a return on investment!) However, if you partner with the human resource professionals at a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), can use their combined purchasing power to offer you a wider range of health and wellness program offerings, all at a price that makes the most sense.

To learn more about wellness programs, click here.

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