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Employers missing out on best financial benefits of preventive care

Employers in the United States are increasingly offering preventive health care services as part of their employee benefits, and they say they are doing it because they want to save money on their workers. But employers are less likely to include services like nutrition and smoking counseling that would provide the most bang for the buck, a new report in the American Journal of Health Promotion concludes.

More than 90 percent of the employers surveyed for the report say that the potential savings offered by preventive care programs, through lower health care costs and less absenteeism, are important to them, according to Jeffrey Harris, M.D., of the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine and colleagues.

Yet only 20 percent of the employer programs included services to help employees quit smoking, tackle alcohol abuse, eat better and get more exercise. Flu shots, another relatively low-cost service with a high potential financial return, were also covered by few employers.

"Employers seek financial return from their offerings of clinical preventive services to employees, but they are least likely to offer the services most likely to provide this return," Harris said.

Still, the report suggests that employer coverage of preventive services "is reasonably good," he added.

Harris and colleagues analyzed data from a 2001 nationwide survey of 2,180 employers of varying sizes. The survey included private and government businesses.

The researchers found that physical exams, immunizations and cancer and cholesterol screenings were among the preventive services most often covered by employers.

Large employers, those with 500 or more employees, were more likely than medium and small businesses to cover preventive services. Harris and colleagues suggest that larger employers may have had more bargaining power and resources to negotiate for these benefits with health insurers. Large employer
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Contact: Jeffrey Harris
jh7@u.washington.edu
Center for the Advancement of Health
30-Dec-2005


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