The $86.5bn problem employers' health plans don't address

It weighs down health insurance profits, but one study found most employer wellness plans are ill-adept at treatment.

The $86.5bn problem employers' health plans don't address



Employers are increasingly concerned about obesity and its effect on health insurance rates, a new study from the Northeast Business Group on Health reveals. However, another survey indicates most employers aren’t equipped with a wellness plan built to deal with the trials of overweight employees.

The combination leaves many employers in the lurch.

Already, expanding waistlines are adding an annual $73 billion to healthcare bills and absenteeism causes employers to lose $8.65 billion annually. With employer-provided healthcare mandated under the Affordable Care Act, that figure is sure to grow.

Obesity and its resulting health complications account for 75% of national healthcare expenditures, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. If increasing obesity trends continue, healthcare costs may double by 2030.

And it’s not just health insurance rates that could skyrocket.

According to the Northeast Business Group report, overweight and obese employees outnumber co-workers two to one in the number of workers’ compensation requests filed.

Unfortunately, adequate wellness programs catering to obesity are thin on the ground. At least, that’s what a survey of 5,000 employees from The Obesity Action Coalition and ConscienHealth found.

Researchers discovered that while 67% of employees are required to meet weight-related wellness goals in order to get full health coverage, 59% of plans don’t cover proper obesity treatment, including fitness training, dietitian counseling or bariatric surgery.

In fact, most employees said their health plans simply required them to set weight-related goals without offering any support. That’s a failing approach, the researchers said, and it’s one producers who double as a client’s risk manager should be aware of.

“Wellness programs are commonly setting weight goals for employees, but most often they are paired with employer health plans denying coverage for evidence-based obesity treatment,” the researchers said in their report.

Instead of settling for such restricting coverage, producers should shop around for an affordable plan that offers support for obesity drugs or surgery.

Of course, this may be easier said than done, as employers struggle to afford even the most basic health insurance plans. However, by ignoring effective treatment options for obesity, “an employer risks alienating more than a third of its employees,” researchers noted.

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