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Filed Under:Health Insurance, Disability

Researchers find health programs cut absence

(AP photo/U.S. Mint)
(AP photo/U.S. Mint)

Can an employer that sponsors a wellness program or a condition management program get any short-term productivity gains?

Rebecca Mitchell and other researchers at OptumHealth contend in a new paper that it's possible.

The researchers look at the effects of telephone-based health promotion programs provided by their company in a paper published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Some have argued that even getting a health promotion program to produce quick improvements in medical costs is so difficult that few insurers or employers have any financial incentive to sponsor the programs.

Similarly, some have said that getting a health improvement program to produce significant improvements in absence, disability claims or other productivity indicators takes too long to give employers any incentive to see "wellness" programs as a way to boost productivity.

When Mitchell and her colleagues compared the productivity of 3,793 health program participants and 127,218 non-participants, they found that, over just one 12-month period, the program participants reduced mean days of absence from work to 1.57, from 1.78, and mean days of "presenteeism" to 2.5, from 2.95.

The mean value of time lost due to absenteeism and presenteeism was $2,054 for program participants and $2,407 for non-participants.

Participants who actually eliminated some health risk, such as smoking, or closed some gap in their health care, such as a failure to get appropriate diabetes care, averaged $401 in productivity gains.

Participants who participated in the coaching programs but did not actually seem to do anything to improve their health care or their risk factors averaged just $100 in productivity gains. 

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Nichole Morford
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