Fat chance: Obesity and Health Costs
May 16, 2012 Leave a Comment
With health care’s uncertain future, and regardless of which side of the debate you weigh in on, it’s an interesting exercise to reflect a bit on one of the most significant contributing factors to rising health insurance costs for everyone: the growing size of two-thirds of America. The sobering fact is that the majority of us are either obese or overweight.
Obesity is one of the biggest drivers of preventable chronic diseases and health care costs in the country. And it’s related to more than 30 illnesses, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer.
For those who partner with health care companies in helping them communicate with members, the facts are clear: there are no winners on the business side of the obesity dilemma. There are no “fat cats” prospering from the widening girth of the average American waistline. Insurers, including Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance providers, have paid record claims in the past several decades for obesity-related illnesses. And those companies now face the 2014 deadline: they cannot avoid these patients under the current new law. Consumers face higher and higher premiums, driven in large part by the high cost of these same obesity-related claims. It’s a conundrum for which there is no simple solution.
But we can still dream, right? A recent study examined how much the United States could save in health care costs if obesity rates were reduced by five percent. The analysis found that the country could save $29.8 billion in five years, $158.1 billion in 10 years and $611.7 billion in 20 years. The combined medical costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase by $48-$66 billion per year in the United States by 2030 — while experiencing a loss in economic productivity as high as $540 billion.
Another recent study found that an investment of $10 per person per year in proven community-based programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition and prevent smoking and other tobacco use could save the country more than $16 billion annually within five years. This is a return of $5.60 for every $1.80 spent. Out of the $16 billion, Medicare could save more than $5 billion, Medicaid could save more than $1.9 billion and private payers could save more than $9 billion.
Those are some big numbers. But then, all federal budget and health care numbers are astronomical. For those of us who are both consumers and health care marketers, where does our opportunity lie?
In the most basic sense, the onus is on us to be intelligent stewards of our own health care dollars. I can recall my mother expressing what now seems to be a quaint attitude with regard to health care claims back in the 1970s: “You don’t want to ask the insurance company to pay out too much on your behalf.” Sounds crazy today, doesn’t it? Common sense — and vanity — would dictate that a healthy lifestyle would keep one in good graces with one’s insurer, by my mother’s standards at least.
But living in the real business world, where can we as marketing professionals be of service? Where can our skills and knowledge base intercede to help resolve what is shaping up to be a great national challenge, this out-of-shape fiscal and health care crisis?
As communicators, the opportunity is there. As niche-expert disease state marketers, the opportunity is even greater.
Direct Choice Inc. is a full-service direct marketing agency that has worked with national and regional brands in a wide variety of vertical markets. In addition to this blog, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.