Tuesday, March 5, 2013

High Costs for Workers with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Excess Costs of RA Total Nearly $6 Billion Nationwide, Study Estimates

Workers with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) incur increased direct and indirect health-related costs, reports a study in the March Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Using a large insurance claims database, Richard A. Brook, MS, MBA, of The JestaRx Group, Newfoundland, N.J., and colleagues compared costs to employers for 2,705 workers with RA versus more than 338,000 workers without RA. The analysis included direct costs such as health care as well as indirect costs such as missed work days.

Average annual costs were about $5,200 higher for workers with RA: $8,700 versus $3,500 per employee. Ninety percent of the excess costs related to RA were for direct health care costs.

However, workers with RA still averaged about 3.5 additional health-related absence days per year, including more sick days and more short-term disability time.

Extrapolating the results to the U.S. civilian labor force, the resesarchers estimated that workers with RA incurred an additional $5.8 billion in additional costs per year, of which $5.2 billion was for direct costs. Workers with RA also accounted for 4 million additional lost work days.

Rheumatoid arthritis, the most common type of inflammatory arthritis, affects many working-age adults and can have a significant impact on work ability. The new study is the first to present objective data on direct and indirect costs for U.S. workers with RA.

The results show that workers with RA incur "consistently higher" direct costs, indirect costs, and absences compared to workers without RA. The authors believe their study may underestimate the true cost impact of RA for U.S. employers—especially when reduced productivity on the job (presenteeism) is considered. Brook and colleagues conclude, "The data emphasize the need for effective management strategies that can reduce the burden of illness and economic losses incurred."

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