Experts say that same strategy should be applied to the physical fitness of employees. Overweight employees and their associated chronic medical conditions are directly impacting the workers' comp system to an extent that can no longer be ignored.
The evidence. "Obesity is sweeping across the U.S. like a biblical plague," according to NCCI's chief economist Harry Shuford. During the Florida rate-making entity's recent Annual Issues Symposium, Shuford and other experts revealed the latest statistics showing the effect of overweight and obese employees on the workers' comp system.
Shuford cited statistics showing nine states where at least 30 percent of the population was overweight in 2009, as measured by a body mass index of 30 or more. Based on figures from a study out of the Duke Health and Safety Surveillance System, he also suggested a direct correlation of increased BMI with an increased number of workers' comp claims.
The same study also showed the following increased medical costs rising with an increase in BMI, per 100 workers:
- Normal BMI -- $7,500.
- Overweight -- more than $13,300.
- Mildly obese -- more than $19,000.
- Moderately obese -- more than $23,300.
- Severely obese -- more than $51,000 per 100 very obese workers.
One of the main reasons for the increased workers' comp costs is the additional health issues that often accompany excess weight. The main ones are hypertension, diabetes, and dyslipidemia, such as high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides. Others include osteoarthritis, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, and some cancers, such as endometrial, breast, and colon, Shuford said.
Experts say injured workers with chronic diseases have slower and more complicated recoveries. Costs may additionally be increased because treatment of the chronic disease may be required in order to stabilize the worker and bring resolution to the claim.
Employers can take proactive steps to reduce the incidence of obesity and some of the associated cost. Sperian Protection, a manufacturer of personal protective equipment, says it was able to reduce its overall medical claims and pharmaceutical costs by more than $280,000 following a $70,000 investment over three years.
The crux of the effort is a program called Shape Up Sperian that was started several years ago in response to rising health care costs.
"Like every other midsized company, we had outrageously high renewal rates," said Michael Vittoria, vice president of human resources. "We knew we had to do something different. We couldn't absorb 20 percent to 30 percent annual increases on health costs."
Among the strategies was a requirement for employees to participate in wellness activities in order to qualify for lower cost health plans. The company tried to get employees more actively engaged in managing their own health care.
"We started having conversations with our employees," Vittoria said. "We said, 'this is what we're spending. This is what's driving your costs up.'"
In designing the health plan, the company partnered with Shape Up Rhode Island, a 12-week program developed in the state.
"What it does is it capitalizes on some of the natural tendencies people have at work," Vittoria said. "People are team-oriented. They're also very competitive by nature."
What was created was an annual wellness competition. By developing a social networking website, employees were able to track their results against other teams, and issue challenges to other teams.
"That combination is built around the idea that we want people to team together and compete on how much weight they can lose, how many steps they can walk -- individually and as a team -- and how many hours they can exercise," Vittoria said.
The participation rate has been high. "We set a goal of 75 percent," Vittoria said. "We knew employees were looking for a program since they had to complete a wellness activity."
The company has seen positive results. From 2008 to 2010, 1,029 participants have lost 9,469 pounds, have exercised 82,531 hours, and walked 2,006,112,566 steps. Even more telling are the improvements in the following key areas:
- Lost time injury rate per 1,000 employees decreased by 54 percent.
- Salary continuation expense decreased from more than $35,000 per month in 2007 to less than $26,000 per month in 2009.
- Nearly 75 percent of employees received free cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure screening, and flu shots at wellness clinics. More than 60 employees were referred for follow-up medical care based on the results.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
June 20, 2011
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