No other disease is as detrimental to American health and welfare as cardiovascular disease. At any given time, more than 80 million people are affected by some form of cardiovascular disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that heart disease is the nation’s leading cause of death, and stroke ranks as number three. The economic implications of cardiovascular disease are just as grave as the health consequences. The cost of heart disease and stroke for businesses in the United States, including health care expenditures and lost productivity from deaths and disability, is tremendous and the problem continues to grow.
For many people, cardiovascular disease can be prevented through lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, many of those who are at risk are unaware of their own risk status or unsure how they can reduce their risk. Prevention and wellness messages that address these issues have been successful in the workplace because employers are in a unique position to provide information to employees so they can understand how to control their risk factors and access treatments. Tackling this concern through health promotion programs, individual risk assessment, tailored health messages and incentives to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle can significantly improve employee health, dramatically reduce business-related costs, and effectively yield higher productivity and profits.
Cardiovascular Disease and American Business
Addressing cardiovascular disease is a public health responsibility, but it is also a strategic business issue. For U.S. businesses, the growth in resources devoted to treating cardiovascular disease has had a direct correlation to declines in company profits. Studies demonstrate that the same risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease account for a major proportion of health care costs, workers’ compensation payouts and sick leave pay. Thus, emphasis on the prevention or modification of risk factors is a sound business decision.
Programs that address key components of cardiovascular disease are the most effective at improving health and reducing costs, yet some companies feel that the high cost of their existing health care plans precludes them from considering additional benefits or wellness programs. However, cardiovascular disease prevention is well worth the investment. The CDC conducted a study of nine organizations with workplace health management or wellness programs and found a return on investment ranging from $1.40 to $4.90 per dollar spent. The approaches included using a health risk assessment, offering fitness facilities, providing nutrition education and providing education programs targeted to those at high risk of disease.
How to “Sell” Cardiovascular Wellness in the Workplace
Several companies have reported an initial investment of $200 per person per year for targeted cardiovascular workplace wellness programs (there is evidence that per person costs may decline after the first year). In an environment where already high health care premiums are rising, some benefits managers may find that company decision makers will need concrete evidence to support any additional investment in cardiovascular disease prevention. The following strategies can help to illustrate the significant ROI that can be realized from cardiovascular programs:
- Cite the literature. Several studies measure direct and indirect costs of cardiovascular disease and give concrete data about cost-to-benefit ratios of preventive programs.
- Emphasize increased savings. The cost of prevention efforts is significantly less than the cost of treating disease. In light of rising health care costs, programs that lead to reduced medical claims, office visits and hospitalization offer an immediate opportunity to save money.
- Educate decision makers. Explain how much of your company’s health care costs go toward treating cardiovascular disease and its risk factors. Present this data with information about programs that can help minimize or control these risk factors, giving examples of health care cost savings that could be realized if these programs were implemented.
- Compare health care costs with net revenue. Seeing the proportion of profits that go to health care spending underscores the need for strategies to reduce overall health care costs.