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May 7, 2009
Diabetes care: Employers save money after lowering costs for employees’ preventive care
Study finds that employees took better care of themselves without a co-pay, saving money on emergency care, absenteeism
By Bruce Japsen | Tribune reporter
Chicago employers lowered costs for their workers with diabetes by more than $1,400 per employee over a year's time thanks to an experimental program that helped pay for their drugs and provided consultations at the pharmacy counter.
The pilot program, launched in 2007, saved four area employers $1,467 per worker, or more than $126,000, said the Midwest Business Group on Health, a Chicago-based coalition of employers that coordinated the program. There were 86 workers from Hospira Inc., Pactiv Corp., the City of Naperville and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago that participated in the program from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008. Given the program's success, Midwest Business Group is hoping more employers participate in the future.
Direct and indirect costs of diabetes to the U.S. health-care system are more than $130 billion a year and include emergency room visits, extended hospital stays and absenteeism, the Chicago group said, citing national studies. About 20 million people have diabetes, including more than 600,000 in the Chicago area.
"Not only did we realize an improvement in clinical indicators and cost savings, but we were pleased to see a high level of satisfaction from our participating employees regarding their overall diabetes care," said Judith Hearn, health and welfare manager for Pactiv, the Lake Forest-based maker of Hefty garbage bags.
As part of the program, employers waived or reduced the so-called co-payment or co-insurance in hopes that workers with diabetes would take better care of themselves and avoid costly hospitalizations. In addition, the Illinois Pharmacists Association trained about 200 pharmacists to "coach" diabetics in the program to "enable patients to reach individual goals for medication compliance, fitness and weight management," Midwest Business Group said.
Diabetics need greater attention partly because they typically take seven to 12 prescriptions, and that makes compliance difficult. Inadequate treatment can lead to blindness, amputations of limbs or even death. More than 200,000 Americans die of diabetes-related complications each year.
The program is modeled after a similarly successful effort by the city of Asheville, N.C., that lowered costs and showed a 50 percent drop in sick days and no worker's compensation claims filed by participating diabetes patients between 1997 and 2003. Asheville has expanded its program to people with asthma and high blood pressure.