"Employers are affected in two ways: the direct cost of employee health care manifested in medical and pharmacy benefit plan claims and the indirect costs connected with employees' lost productivity," said Alyssa B. Schultz, a research associate at the U-M Health Management Research Center, which conducted the study with Chicago-based Bank One, the nation's sixth-largest financial services corporation.
Migraine headaches---often debilitating with symptoms of nausea, sensitivity to light and intense pain---plague an estimated 6 percent of men and 18 percent of women in the United States.
Although large epidemiological studies have established the national prevalence of migraines and suggested their big costs, few employers have been able to apply these projections to their specific work force.
The U-M research center worked with Bank One to distribute a health risk appraisal to about 93,000 employees in 2000. It included specific questions related to chronic disease including heart disease, diabetes, migraine headache, back pain and cancer, said Bank One Medical Director Wayne Burton, M.D. Twenty-one percent, or 19,853 employees, returned the questionnaire.
Analyzing demographic and payroll data along with the survey responses, the researchers estimated corporate costs due to migraine-related absenteeism and reduced on-the-job productivity to total $21.5 to $24.4 million for the year, Burton said.
"Of the nearly 20,000 respondents, 20 percent reported a history of migraine headaches," Schultz said. "Only back pain (34 percent) and seasonal allergies (44 percent) were more frequent than migraine."