During a Jan. 28 briefing for members of the Congressional Wellness Caucus, leaders from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine pushed for new policies that strengthen workplace wellness initiatives. ACOEM asserts that workplace wellness efforts can help improve the health of seniors as they become eligible for Medicare and other government entitlement programs.
“Evidence is mounting that effective workplace health and wellness programs, when properly managed and sustained, can help reduce the incidence and burden of chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, which are driving up the costs of Medicare and other entitlement programs,” ACOEM stated in a news release.
ACOEM leaders described a system in which employers would play a larger role in helping workers avoid these chronic conditions while they still are employed – thus lessening the chance that seniors would enter the Medicare system hampered by disease.
Such a system presents a win-win, according to ACOEM: Employers would benefit from lowered medical and productivity costs, while the government’s long-term health costs would be reduced. And, individual workers benefit from improved quality of life through better health.
“Employers are in a position of tremendous leverage in terms of our national health care costs,” said ACOEM President Ron Loeppke, M.D., MPH. “More than 130 million people are employed in the United States, and evidence-based population health management programs in the workplace – applied comprehensively – have the potential to significantly impact the health of those who are heading toward retirement.”
When a healthier retiree “graduates” into Medicare, the retiree will incur lower costs than a retiree who has a chronic disease, Loeppke asserted.
ACOEM’s advocacy agenda calls for:
- Research funding to better understand the connection between workplace health programs and Medicare costs.
- Stronger support for training programs for physicians with expertise in workplace health and wellness.
- A stronger public-sector/private-sector partnership to create sustainable health programming in the workplace.
Joining ACOEM leaders during the briefing was Cathy Baase, M.D., global director of health services for the Dow Chemical Co. Baase noted that Dow Chemical's emphasis on wellness in the workplace is part of a trend among thought leaders in the United States that better management of the health of employee populations is critical to the achievement of U.S. health objectives.
“Some of the most influential organizations in the United States, ranging from the Institutes of Medicine to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are arriving at the same conclusion: Worksite health must be a contributing stakeholder if we are to address our long-term health challenges as a nation,” Baase said.
During the briefing, Loeppke shared ACOEM’s plans to conduct new research aimed at better quantifying the impact of healthier retirees on Medicare – including comparing health measures gleaned from actual corporate health and wellness programs with data from the Medicare system.
ACOEM also announced that it is working with NIOSH on a study of best practices among employers that are addressing the health impacts of aging in the workplace.
Loeppke emphasized that the nation’s occupational and environmental medicine physicians – a medical specialty with unique training in workplace health programs – are essential in helping create what he called a “true culture of health” among employers.
“OEM specialists, trained in identifying and reducing population health risks, are a critical link,” Loeppke said. “Through workplace health and wellness initiatives, just one OEM physician can impact tens of thousands of individuals and substantially reduce the burdens on public programs down the road.”