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Workers with Rheumatoid Arthritis Incur $5.8 Billion in Costs Nationwide

March 7, 2013
Researchers estimate that workers with rheumatoid arthritis incur $5.8 billion in additional costs per year and account for 4 million additional lost workdays.

New research suggests that rheumatoid arthritis is a costly ailment for the U.S. work force: Workers with rheumatoid arthritis incur excess costs of $5.8 billion nationwide and also log higher-than-average sick days and short-term disability time.

Rheumatoid arthritis, the most common type of inflammatory arthritis, affects many working-age adults and can have a significant impact on work ability. This new study used a large insurance claims database to compare costs to employers for 2,705 workers with rheumatoid arthritis versus more than 338,000 workers who do not suffer from this ailment. The analysis included direct costs such as health care as well as indirect costs such as missed workdays.

Richard A. Brook, M.S., MBA, of the JestaRx Group and colleagues found that average annual costs were about $5,200 higher for workers with RA: $8,700 versus $3,500 per employee. Ninety percent of the excess costs related to rheumatoid arthritis – $5.2 billion of the total $5.8 billion – were attributed to direct health care costs.

Workers with rheumatoid arthritis also averaged about 3.5 additional health-related absence days per year, including more sick days and more short-term disability time. Nationwide, rheumatoid arthritis accounted for a total of about 4 million additional lost workdays.

The authors suggest that their study may underestimate the true cost impact of rheumatoid arthritis for U.S. employers, especially when reduced productivity on the job (presenteeism) is considered.

The study appears in the March Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

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