Invest in workers' health, save healthcare costs

New York, Jan 6 : Workplace wellness programmes can lower health care costs in workers with chronic diseases, according to a new study.

Examining a large employee wellness programme offered by the multinational food and beverage corporation PepsiCo, researchers at the US-based RAND Corp found that efforts to help employees manage chronic illnesses saved $3.78 in healthcare costs for every $1 invested in the effort.

"The PepsiCo programme provides a substantial return for the investment made in helping employees manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease," said Soeren Mattke, senior author and a natural scientist at RAND, a non-profit organisation.

However, components of the programmes that encourage workers to adopt healthier lifestyles may not reduce health costs or lead to lower net savings, added the study.

The programme includes numerous components, including health risk assessments, on-site wellness events, lifestyle management, disease management, complex care management and a nurse advice phone line.

The study evaluated the experiences of over 67,000 workers who were eligible for the disease management or lifestyle management programmes.

"The lifestyle management component of the programme - while delivering benefits - did not provide more savings than it cost to offer," said Mattke.

Researchers found that the disease management programme reduced costs among participants by $136 per member per month, or $1,632 annually, driven by a 29 percent drop in hospital admissions.

Among people who participated in both the disease management and lifestyle management programmes, the savings were $160 per month with a 66 percent drop in hospital admissions, said the study published in the journal "Health Affairs".

People who participated in the lifestyle management programme reported a small reduction in absenteeism, but there was no significant effect on health care costs.

"While workplace wellness programmes have the potential to reduce health risks and cut health care spending, employers should not take for granted that the lifestyle management components of the programmes can reduce costs or lead to savings overall," Mattke said.

Interestingly, the disease management participants who also joined the lifestyle management programme experienced significantly higher savings, which suggests that proper targeting can improve the financial performance of lifestyle management programmes, the study said.

--IANS (Posted on 06-01-2014)

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