ACOEM Congressional Briefing Connects Workplace Health and Long-Term Impacts on Medicare Costs

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Newswise — (Washington, D.C. – Jan. 31, 2014) The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) urged Congress this week to support new policies aimed at delivering healthier seniors into Medicare and other government entitlement programs by strengthening health and wellness programs in the workplace.

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. In a special briefing for members of the Congressional Wellness Caucus January 28, leaders from ACOEM described a system in which stronger emphasis would be placed by employers on helping workers avoid these chronic conditions while they are still employed – thus lessening the chance that they would enter the Medicare system hampered by disease.

ACOEM says such a system presents a win-win: 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, MD, 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.”

“It makes common sense that a healthier retiree who ‘graduates’ into Medicare is going to ultimately have lower costs than one who enters the system already debilitated by chronic disease,” he added. “So why not do all we can to prevent that from happening – using the workplace as resource?”

ACOEM’s advocacy agenda, presented for the Congressional Wellness Caucus, 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, and a stronger public sector/private sector partnership to create sustainable health programming in the workplace.

Also joining ACOEM leaders during the briefing was Cathy Baase, MD, Global Director of Health Services for The Dow Chemical Company, who said her company’s emphasis on wellness in the workplace represents a strong 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 (IOM) to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 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,” she said.

Dr. Loeppke shared with legislators during the briefing 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.

Additionally, ACOEM announced that it is working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on a study of best practices among employers who are addressing the health impacts of aging in the workplace.

Dr. Loeppke stressed that the nation’s occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) 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,” Dr. 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.”

To learn more about initiatives aimed at improving health through a stronger emphasis on workplace health visit ACOEM at www.acoem.org.

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About ACOEM
The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) represents more than 4,000 physicians specializing in occupational and environmental medicine. Founded in 1916, ACOEM is the nation’s largest medical society dedicated to promoting the health of workers through preventive medicine, clinical care, disability management, research, and education. For more information, visit www.acoem.org.


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