Healthier Americans for a Healthier Economy
Preventing disease is one of the most common sense ways to improve health in America. But it is also a major factor for improving the economy.
High rates of chronic diseases are among the biggest drivers of U.S. health care costs and they are harming our nation’s productivity. In fact, more than half of all Americans currently live with one or more chronic disease, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. High rates of these diseases, which in many cases are preventable, are associated with increasing health care costs.
Recently, Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) released a report, Healthier Americans for a Healthier Economy (http://www.healthyamericans.org/report/90/), that features six case studies focused on the relationship between health and economic development.
The report examines how health affects the ability of states, cities and towns to attract and retain employers, and how workplace and community wellness programs help improve productivity and reduce health spending.
The case studies in the report feature first-hand accounts from business executives, elected officials and public health leaders in Minnesota, Texas, Nashville, Indiana, San Diego and Hernando, Mississippi. In each community, employers and communities are making the connection between improving health and improving the economy.
For instance, William Paul, Nashville, Tenn. Health Commissioner, noted, “Nashville wants to attract new business. If we’re known as a healthy city, that becomes a positive thing for economic development. If we’re known as a city that thinks about the health of our workforce, that will be a big plus for companies.” The city is undertaking a range of prevention efforts – including supporting community programs, workplace wellness efforts and school-based initiatives – to help make it easier for city residents to make healthier choices. “Everything we do takes economic impact into account,” said Alisa Haushalter, a nurse with the health department who is project director for the program.
Quite simply, workplace wellness and community prevention programs are a win-win way to make a real difference in improving our health and bottom line all at once.
In another example, a recent study from the Texas comptroller found that obesity alone cost Texas businesses an extra $9.5 billion in 2009, including more than $4 billion for health care, $5 billion for lost productivity and absenteeism and $321 million for disability. “If you look at this from a financial point of view, it’s scary,” said Karl Eschbach, author of the comptroller report who is now a professor at the University of Texas at Galveston.
“If obesity continues to rise, we will have a workforce that will not be as attractive as it could be to companies thinking of expanding or moving to Texas,” noted Eduardo Sanchez, a former Texas state health commissioner, current Chief Medical Officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, and TFAH board member.
Texas and many employers around the state are supporting community-based and workplace wellness programs. For example, Peter Wald, director of wellness for San Antonio-based financial services company USAA, said, “it’s much cheaper to keep people healthy than it is to take care of them when they’re sick. The way for us to control costs is to keep people healthy. We’re doing a full court press.”
In the example of Minnesota, Tom Mason, president of the Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota said, “we’ve heard from employers around the state that their health care costs are unsustainable and they want to do something about it.” Four years ago, the state launched a Statewide Health Improvement Plan (SHIP), to help save health care expenses for the state and private businesses by focusing on improving health. Julie Sonier, former state health economist in Minnesota, said, “if you’re going to contain health care costs, it’s important to stop the rise of preventable chronic disease. The idea is to generate savings by reducing the number of people who have these conditions.”
Increasingly, American businesses are taking notice of the health of their employees because preventing disease and promoting health reaps real economic rewards. These examples should spur more business and public health partnerships focused on making the healthy choices easier choices for employees and their families.
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