'Unhealthy behaviors' spike health care costs, Thomson Reuters says in new calculation
Overeating, alcohol consumption, tobacco use and other "unhealthy behaviors" cost companies an average of $670 per employee in extra health care costs, according to a new calculation by an Ann Arbor-based division of information services giant Thomson Reuters.
The company today introduced a new annual calculation called the Thomson Reuters Workforce Wellness Index to track health care costs associated with six key factors: body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and tobacco and alcohol use.
Those conditions accounted for 14 percent of privately insured employees' health care costs in 2009, Thomson Reuters found.
Obesity's effect on health care costs is particularly significant. The index found that of the $670 in additional health care costs attributed to unhealthy behaviors, $400 is connected with high body mass index.
The researchers also reported that $150 is attributed to high blood glucose.
Overall Thomson Reuters said that the U.S. population is gradually getting more unhealthy. On a scale of 100, where 100 equals "no behavioral risk factors present in the population," the U.S. ranked at 84.4 in 2009, down from 86.4 in 2005.
The measurement comes as policymakers and employers are actively considering ways to encourage healthy living as a key way to lower health care costs.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 75 percent of health care costs are attributable to chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.
"This analysis shows that employers striving to reduce healthcare costs would be wise to address the behavioral risk prevalence of their workforce," Thomson Reuters chief medical officer Raymond Fabius said in a statement. “This type of analysis generates real value by spotlighting areas for improvement. When employers, insurers and others take a close look at how their beneficiaries compare with national norms, they can begin to identify and target specific problem areas.”
Thomson Reuters is the second largest private sector employer in Washtenaw County. The company's health care business employs between 800 and 900 workers at the former 777 building on Eisenhower Parkway. The company's tax and accounting software business employs between 900 and 1,000 people at its division in Dexter.