Health care costs continue to rise for both employees and employers. This is partially doe to the Affordable Health Care Act and the changes it enacted, including driving up demand for access. A new Mayo Clinic study shows that work site wellness centers are becoming more important to the fight to keep health care costs down while encouraging healthy lifestyles for employees.
The study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, shows that Mayo Clinic employees who regularly use the clinic's employee wellness facility, the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center, experienced significant weight loss and substantial health care cost savings. "A well-planned comprehensive wellness center can engage and retain members which can ultimately lead to important savings in health care costs and reductions in body mass index," says Bijan Borah, Ph.D., from the Mayo Clinic's Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery.
The study analyzed data from 3,199 members who were enrolled for at least three consecutive years at the DAHLC. Data was collected from the wellness facility's attendance databases, health care claims records and electronic health records. Attendance rates of members were categorized from one to 60 visits all the way to 360 visits in the three-year period. Members who attended the DAHLC at least 360 times in the study period were 72 percent more likely to experience weight loss than members who attended between one and 60 times. Members who visited between 181 and 360 times were 46 percent more likely to experience weight loss.
The mean annual health are cost for members with one to 60 visits was calculated at $13,267. By contrast, the mean annual cost for subjects with 61 to 180 visits, 181 to 360 visits and more than 360 visits was significantly lower, at $9,538, $9,332 and $8,293 respectively.
This study provides important insight into controlling the rising costs of health care in America. The United States spend more on health care than 46 other first-world countries, with each insured American costing the country $8,000 in medical expenses and treatment. Under the Affordable Care Act, costs associated with increased demand for health care by newly insured individuals continues to climb as more people enroll each year. Even with insurance, health care costs can still be quite expensive for the average consumer, with prescription medications, office visits, monthly premiums and high co-pays combined.
A more reliable strategy to controlling health care costs, as the Mayo Clinic study demonstrates, is preventing the need for excessive health care in the first place, by encouraging people to lose excess weight and engage in regular physical activity.
Dr. Borah states there is an average health care cost savings of $4,974 between the top and bottom quartiles of users of the DAHLC that is simply too significant to ignore. "While the use of DAHLC is unlikely the only mediator of either weight control or health care costs, workplaces that are able to offer comprehensive wellness facilities may be capable of achieving similar gains irrespective of individuals' activity pursuits at the facility," he concludes.
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