Wellness@Work: An Economic Imperative

Did you know that in Oregon, healthcare costs doubled between 1990 and 2001, and doubled again between 2002 and 2012? Did you know that, since 2000, employment based health insurance premiums have increased by 87%, and have significantly outpaced inflation and workers’ earnings over the last 20 years? These are a few of the statistics cited by Mark Hurliman, Oregon OSHA SHARP and VPP Program Manager, during an educational session he chaired at the recent Central Oregon Occupational Safety and Health conference held at Eagle Crest Resort. The session, titled Wellness @ Work: An Economic Imperative, made a strong case that workplace wellness programs are becoming a vital necessity to reduce US healthcare costs.

Mark also cited these statistics: Chronic disease accounts for 3 of every 4 dollars spent on healthcare, and by age 65, 87% of the US population had one or more chronic diseases, 56% had two or more, and 23% of the population had three or more chronic diseases.  So, what is responsible for such high levels of chronic disease in the US workforce? Here are some other statistics: Overweight and obesity exceeds 65% of the US population and continues to increase. Obese workers file workers’ compensation claims at 2.5 times that of the norm, their claims costs are 5 times higher, take 13 times as many lost workdays, their medical costs are 7 times higher and indemnity costs 11 times higher than the norm. And the final tie-in: obesity is known to be a primary factor in the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal disease, to name a few.

Although the first half of the session presented a somewhat bleak scenario on US healthcare costs, the second half built a strong case for optimism that healthcare costs can be managed in the workplace through workplace wellness programs. I was privileged to speak about the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center (ORhwc), which is the new NIOSH-funded Total Worker Health-Center of WorkLife Excellence headed by Dr. Kent Anger at CROET. The NIOSH strategy is to integrate occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and wellbeing. You can learn about the ORhwc at www.ohsu.edu/xd/research/centers-institutes/croet/oregon-healthy-workforce-center/, and by reading previous posts about the ORhwc on this blog. You can learn about the NIOSH program at www.cdc.gov/niosh/TWH/.

Most impressive were the presentations by Geof Hasegawa of Deschutes Brewery, Ben Hasbrouck of Bend Research and Therese Madrigal of Deschutes County. These three shared their experiences in developing workplace wellness programs for their respective workplaces. Because the concept of worker wellness programs is relatively new for employers, some of what they have done is by trial and error. Impressive, however, is the creativity with which they have approached the problem and the wholehearted support given by their employers to this endeavor. These employers know that, unless they actively engage and support their employees in efforts to be healthy and productive, they will not be able to afford to provide health insurance to their workers in the not-so-distant future. The examples presented by these three left no doubt that worker wellness programs are a necessity in our efforts to reduce healthcare costs in the US.

You can learn more about wellness@work initiatives in Oregon by visiting the following website: www.healthoregon.org/wellnessatwork. And BTW, thanks to Oregon OSHA for planning and presenting an excellent Central Oregon Occupational Safety and Health conference in 2012.

One response to “Wellness@Work: An Economic Imperative

  1. Wellness initiatives are great for encouraging health for the long term. However, many employees force themselves to work while battling an illness. This is bad for two reasons. The sick individuals risk infecting others, and they aren’t as focused which can be a safety hazard on the job. Employers should encourage employees to take a day off to recover, in addition to promoting health and wellness programs.

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