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Prevention Is Key To Solving Health Care Crisis

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

There is another national crisis looming, one that requires further decisive action from Washington leaders, employers and consumers, according to Christopher Fey, CEO of U.S. Preventive Medicine, Inc., the leader in disease prevention services. This crisis revolves around health care, and he says it is influencing the nation's economic viability just as surely as the financial market crisis.

"All the numbing statistics and heartbreaking human tragedy are right there in front of us to provide abundant evidence that the time to address this is now," said Fey. "The only way to 'bend the trend' in escalating health care costs is to implement primary, secondary and tertiary prevention at a fundamental level, from cradle to grave, in the home and in the workplace."

Since 2001, premiums for family coverage have increased 78 percent, while inflation has increased by 17 percent and wages have gone up only by 19 percent, according to the Kaiser Survey of Employer Health Benefits.

"What we have now are fragmented wellness and disease management programs reaching a small segment of the population that don't truly engage individuals or integrate with how they live their lives," Fey said. "Those who have health insurance get a new carrier on average every two and half years and there are few cohesive preventive efforts to focus on the quality and effectiveness of care. Instead, the focus is on treating existing illness."

Fey said employer case studies and published research demonstrate that integrated prevention efforts can lower health risks and related costs and improve productivity in the workplace, citing an article on "The Value of Health and The Power of Prevention" in the current issue of International Journal of Workplace Health Management by leading health care expert Ron Loeppke, M.D. Dr. Loeppke, the co-chairman of U.S. Preventive Medicine's National Advisory Board, provides a scientific and business case for prevention with findings that include a multi-year, CDC-funded study with an employer that implemented a health enhancement initiative. It resulted in a significant reduction in health risks and illnesses:

-- Almost 80 percent of the employees who transitioned from medium to low risk from 2003 and 2005, maintained a low risk status in 2006;

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-- 87.2 percent of low risk employees in 2003 remained low risk in 2005;

-- For those at medium risk in 2003, 30.2 percent remained there, 59.5 moved to low risk and 10.3 percent moved to high risk.

-- For those at high risk, 52.8 percent remained at high risk, but 25 moved to medium risk and 22.2 percent moved to low risk.

-- The most notable changes in health risks were a reduction in the proportion of employees with high cholesterol, improved diet, a cutback in heavy drinking, high blood pressure management, improved stress management, increased exercise, fewer smokers and a drop in obesity rates.

The work of Harvard's Dr. Ron Kessler shows that an employee will likely lose eight days of productivity, at a cost to the employer of $2,508 a year, so the employer savings from health enhancement strategies will be significant.

U.S. Preventive Medicine has developed a program called The Prevention Plan to give employers and consumers a data-driven, outcomes-oriented solution that can control expenses and enhance productivity. Using an online platform, health risk appraisal, thorough lab work and physician review, The Prevention Plan identifies the top health risks for an employee and provides a customized, step-by-step "medical home" to help them lower those risks. Each person receives 24/7 RN coaching, action tutorials, reminders, personal health record storage, progress trackers and reward programs designed to change behavior to improve health. It's completely confidential, secure and remains in place, even as other benefit programs change.

"This is the world's first benefit program focused solely on helping individuals clinically identify and conquer health risks on a personal level," Fey said. "We will only be able to head off a health care crisis by strategically investing in a true culture of prevention that helps healthy individuals maintain their good health and helps those with chronic needs receive earlier interventions. It can be done, but we have to get started today. Tomorrow will be too late."