News & Trends

November 14, 2002

CCH report on unscheduled absences, Hazelden&s new Workplace Recovery Benefits Survey including employees' fears of drug and alchohol treatment, Commonwealth Fund survey on Medicare beneficiaries

 

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THE ABSENTEE PUZZLE

Jump to:Choose article section...FEAR OF DRUG & ALCOHOL TREATMENTMEDICARE OUTPERFORMS PRIVATE CARE

Unscheduled absences are costing employers an average of $789 per-employee this year, according to CCH Inc.’s latest annual survey. That’s up roughly 5 percent from 2001’s $755, but a darn sight better than the previous year’s 25 percent increase from $610 in 2000. This year’s lower rate of increase may be the result of a softer economy in which employers are more likely not to cover unscheduled absences with temp workers or overtime. Meanwhile, the overall absenteeism rate–at roughly 2 percent–has remained constant for the past three years.

Personal illness causes nearly a third of absences, down from nearly half in the mid-1990s. Family issues account for a quarter of the lost days, while 10 percent were chalked up to an entitlement mentality. In the seven years that CCH has been conducting the survey, the big growth has come in stress and personal needs. In 1995 they accounted for 19 percent of absenteeism. This year, they caused 33 percent of the total.

That last figure was broken down into 21 percent for personal needs and 12 percent for stress, a mirror image of last year’s 19 percent for stress and 11 percent for personal needs. The categories may overlap in many minds. After all, if a stressed-out employee takes a "mental health day," does that constitute a personal need?

The risk of dying from heart failure has dropped by one-third for Americans since the 1950s, according to the Framingham Heart Study. Overall, deaths from heart failure decreased about 12 percent each decade since. And while the number of new cases in men has remained the same, the number in woman dropped by more than 30 percent.

FEAR OF DRUG & ALCOHOL TREATMENT

Three out of four employees think their benefits should cover treatment for alcohol and drug-related problems, yet more than one in six would be reluctant to seek such coverage for themselves or a family member. The main force driving the contradictory attitudes is fear of punishment or retribution, says Hazelden’s new Workplace Recovery Benefits Survey.

The renowned Minnesota-based recovery institute found that half of the 1,000 plus workers surveyed would be more willing to ask their boss about the company’s coverage for diabetes or other disease than even to inquire about coverage for alcohol or drug treatment. That’s because over 20 percent fear serious consequences including being fired, losing a license or failing to get a promotion.

Employers are undoubtedly burned by the unused treatment: More than 70 percent of substance abusers are currently employed, and they’re 10 times more likely to miss work and three-and-a-half times more likely to have accidents on the job.

Hazelden offers the following steps to calm employees’ apprehension:

  • During employee orientation, managers should clearly describe coverage for substance abuse and emphasize that employees’ rights to confidentiality are strictly enforced.

  • Managers should annually reiterate the company’s substance abuse insurance benefits and its commitment to confidentiality.

  • Human resource managers and EAP staff should be charged with educating employees on how to use the company’s insurance system for substance abuse services.

Over 225 million Americans have enrolled in managed behavioral health programs and employee assistance programs this year. That’s an increase of roughly 2 percent since 2001, according to a recent survey by Open Minds.

MEDICARE OUTPERFORMS PRIVATE CARE

Even without prescription drug coverage, Medicare beneficiaries have a lot to be happy about. A recent Commonwealth Fund survey revealed that elderly Medicare users are almost three times more likely than enrollees in employer-sponsored plans to rate their health insurance as excellent. They’re also less likely to report any negative experiences with their plans, and one-third as likely to say they could not get care due to cost.

"Medicare beneficiaries’ higher ratings of their health coverage is especially remarkable because those who rely on Medicare are sicker and poorer than those who are covered by private insurance," Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis told the Business & Health Institute. "This should be a powerful warning for reformers looking to privatize Medicare, because they run the risk of undermining the confidence of the very people whom the program is designed to serve."

The study also revealed: Only 2 percent of elderly Medicare beneficiaries had difficulty getting a specialist referral vs. 9 percent of privately insured. Nine percent of Medicare beneficiaries discovered their plan didn’t pay for care they believed was covered and 18 percent couldn’t pay their bills or were contacted by a collection agency, compared with 22 percent and 33 percent, respectively, of the privately insured. Medicare beneficiaries were twice as likely to be very confident in their ability to get care in the future.

Expect a 30 percent increase in mortality rates at hospitals if the patient-to-nurse ratio is doubled from four patients per nurse to eight, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Each additional patient per nurse represents a 7 percent increase in mortality within 30 days of being admitted to the hospital.

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