As it appeared in Inside Business
A recent white paper by the Health Action Council and UnitedHealthcare finds companies that implement deliberate strategies around their employees’ most common chronic health conditions may improve overall employee health and achieve cost-savings over the long-term.
The findings are based on a study of five chronic health conditions — hypertension, diabetes, back disorders, mental health and substance use, and asthma — across more than 280,000 council members insured with UnitedHealthcare. Many of us will suffer at least one of these conditions during our lifetime, with a real impact on health care costs. The study also revealed a number of important disparities in care, which can be improved through a combination of lifestyle modifications and targeted wellness programs.
Care Disparities Revealed
Among HAC members, African Americans are 63% more likely to have hypertension than other races or ethnicities. Also, the study found women are sub-optimally treated across all age groups versus men, who were typically administered more prescription drug treatments.
Men over 50 in lower income groups have the highest prevalence of diabetes, while those of Asian ethnicity have a 43% higher than average prevalence of the condition, largely driven by genetics and diet.
Typically, employees with back disorders skew older and are in lower income brackets, with factory work identified as one of the top jobs linked to back pain. Despite a strong case that physical therapy or chiropractic care helps reduce reliance on muscle relaxants and other drugs, our study found six of 10 obese employees with a back disorder are forgoing or not being offered physical therapy or chiropractic care.
Those with mental health and substance use challenges tend to be female, younger and in lower-income Caucasian groups. Rural areas are often unable to meet mental health care needs due to inadequate services, leading to a higher than average number of emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
African Americans have a 20% higher prevalence of asthma than other races and are more likely to experience a flare-up that requires treatment, yet they are less likely to have been prescribed asthma steroids.