Diabetes Wellness Programs Can Boost Productivity, Reduce Costs

Physicians and employee health experts are increasingly recommending that employers include diabetes screening, prevention and management in their company-sponsored wellness programs.

Diabetes — known as the “silent killer” — afflicts more than 29 million Americans, or 9% of the population.

Type 2 diabetes — or adult-onset diabetes — accounts for about 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose metabolism, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity.

The fallout from the disease has a significant impact on businesses as it can lead to stress, depression and a number of other health problems, including cancer, stroke and heart issues. That in turn leads to lost productivity for you as well as presenteeism, or the dilemma of a worker being at work but not being productive.

Medical costs and costs related to time away from work, disability and premature death that were attributable to diabetes totaled $245 billion in 2019, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Of that total, $69 billion was due to lost productivity.

With these statistics in mind, it’s imperative that employers help their workers manage their diabetes. Helping them get diabetes under control or helping them avoid developing the disease can keep your productivity strong, reduce your workers’ comp claims and also chip away at your health insurance expenses thanks to lower premiums.

Diabetes means decreased productivity

Of the roughly $69 billion that U.S. employers lost in 2019 from decreased productivity due to diabetes:

  • $21.6 billion was from the inability to work as a result of diabetes.
  • $20.8 billion was from presenteeism.
  • $18.5 billion was from lost productive capacity due to early mortality.
  • $5 billion was from missed workdays.
  • $2.7 billion was from reduced productivity for those not in the labor force.

Prevention and management

Employers can help by providing their employees with a voluntary diabetes management and prevention program. This wellness benefit can take many forms.

The Integrated Benefits Institute during an annual forum recently held a session highlighting what some employers are doing to educate their workers on how to manage diabetes:

  • The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has partnered with the American Diabetes Association to deliver educational seminars on diabetes to its workforce.
    The agency also offers as part of its diabetes program health risk and orthopedic assessments, glucose and cholesterol screenings, nutritional counseling, exercise classes and a walking club. (Since the transport agency’s wellness plan provider initiated the diabetes program, its workers’ comp claims have also fallen.)
  • Caterpillar, Inc. found diabetes to be one of its primary cost drivers, so it now provides incentives for employee risk assessments and care management. For example, half of the employees in its diabetes management program reduced their A1C levels (a measure of diabetes control), while 96% reported measuring these levels regularly and 72% reported meeting recommended activity levels.
  • The City of Asheville, NC, used local pharmacists to coach employees on how to manage diabetes. More than 50% of those in the program experienced improved A1C levels, and the number of employees with diabetes that achieved optimal levels increased.
  • Vanderbilt University expanded a pilot program of intensive exercise and nutrition that helped employees with diabetes improve cholesterol and blood sugar. About 25% of the employees were able to stop taking their diabetes medications.
  • The Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund works with its health insurer to offer its employees access to diabetes prevention and control programs. Employees voluntarily participate in worksite health screenings. Those who have pre-diabetes can attend YMCA-led diabetes prevention programs either at work or in the community.

The takeaway

Having a diabetes wellness program among your voluntary benefit offerings can help your employees avoid diabetes or manage it if they already have the disease. That helps not only their health, but also your bottom line.

If you would like to know more about educating your employees about diabetes and helping those with pre-diabetes or diabetes manage their condition, call us.

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