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Employee Well-Being

How the Pandemic Has Exacerbated the Cost of Poor Health

Kelly McDevitt

President, Integrated Benefits Institute

There are many lessons to be learned over the past year, but one of the most important may be the value of health. Chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, are among the leading causes of death in the United States. And now, these underlying chronic diseases also put individuals at higher risk for complications from COVID-19.

We’ve known for quite some time that investing in a healthy workforce can have profound impacts on the bottom line. Illness costs this country billions of dollars and we can no longer afford to ignore the health of our workforce. As the pandemic persists, likely evolving to an endemic, meaning that it will always be with us, the need to more effectively address the health and well-being of Americans must take on even greater urgency.

Our recent analysis found that illness-related lost productivity costs employers $575 billion each year. To put that number in perspective, it’s greater than the combined revenues of Fortune 500 companies like Apple, AT&T, and Home Depot.

Employees covered for sick time, workers’ compensation, disability, and family and medical leave benefits are absent about 978 million days due to illness, and incur an estimated 540 million lost workdays due to presenteeism (underperformance on the job by employees with chronic health conditions). This totals almost 1.5 billion days annually of illness-related absence.

Empowering employees

Given the gravity of the situation, what can employers do?

  • Review and understand your data availability: do you collect the right data to identify the drivers of poor health, and the impact to productivity and business outcomes? If yes, use that data to understand the key drivers, and use resources such as our tools to determine the associated productivity costs.
  • Whenever possible, adopt a more holistic truly integrated strategy when it comes to managing health that includes pharmacy, behavioral, medical claims and leaves data. Programs should integrate and present seamlessly to the employee to support total well-being for the whole family.
  • Design programs and benefits that address total person health. Today’s market demands that employers provide program flexibility to meet their needs where they are – not just chronic disease management cost containment – in their lives.

At the end of the day, the greatest asset for most organizations is their workforce. As such, it is critical that employers understand what ill health really costs their businesses. In doing so, future investments in health and productivity will be more informed and ultimately more effective for not only employers, but their employees and families.

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