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Employers Missing Out on Preventive Care

Such coverage could offer substantial cost savings, study found

FRIDAY, Dec. 30, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Companies are offering more preventive health-care services to save money on sick and absent employees, but would be wise to offer workers more services to change their lifestyles.

That's the conclusion of a new report in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Although health benefits frequently include physical exams, immunizations, cancer and cholesterol screenings, changing behaviors save even more money over time, said Dr. Jeffrey Harris at the University of Washington School of Public Health, who was lead author of the survey.

Yet the researchers found only 20 percent of employers include services that help workers live healthier by quitting smoking, eating better, getting more exercise and tackling alcohol abuse. Few even offered flu shots, the report found.

Health maintenance organizations were more likely to offer preventive services than point-of-service (POS) and preferred provider organizations (PPOs), the report said.

The researchers also found that companies with more than 500 workers are more likely to offer preventative services, perhaps because they can negotiate better rates with insurance companies.

Only about a third of employers offer workers incentives for the services they do provide. Larger employers were more likely to offer lower insurance rates for those who took preventive measures, while mid- and small-size companies offered time off for employees to use the services, according to the study.

Smaller companies have been slow to catch on, in part because of the immediate costs, and because management remains skeptical about changing workers' bad habits of a lifetime, said Marguerite Burns, a researcher at the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin Medical School. A recent study there showed a low rate of coverage for quit-smoking programs among state government employers.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about healthy lifestyles.

SOURCE: Center for the Advancement of Health, news release, Dec. 30, 2005
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