To understand and effectively navigate the current healthcare debate, every U.S. CEO must now be a healthcare leader.
From the health, well being and productivity of employees and their families to the impact on a company’s bottom line, healthcare is a major business concern for everyone. Five consecutive years of double-digit health insurance premium increases have hit the business community hard.
If we don’t identify new efficiencies in the way we administer employee-based healthcare programs, the negative impact of these costs on businesses will only grow. Healthcare spending currently accounts for 18 percent of U.S. economic output. It could reach 34 percent by 2040, according to a June 2, 2009 report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, if the current rate of cost growth continues.
To assume a leadership position, CEOs in all industries should help identify, champion and implement best practices in preventative healthcare. I agree wholeheartedly with the recommendation voiced by the leaders of the Center for American Progress, Service Employees International Union, and Wal-Mart in their June 30, 2009 letter to President Obama: “Not every business can make the same contribution, but everyone must make some contribution.”
One of the best and most efficient ways to help people to live healthier lives is to prevent diseases before they begin, or catch them in the early stages when they are easiest and least expensive to treat, saving billions of dollars in the process.
As an example, colorectal cancer (CRC), the nation’s second leading cancer killer of both women and men, costs more than $8.4 billion each year to treat and took the lives of almost 50,000 Americans last year.
Ninety percent of CRC cases are curable if detected early and treated appropriately, but only 39 percent of colorectal cancer cases are detected in the early stages. Although everyone over 50 is automatically at risk for CRC, only 57 percent of adults aged 50 years or older have ever had a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, which are among the most effective tests for colorectal cancer, according to the CDC.
Some estimates indicate that if CRC screening rates were increased to 80 percent of the at-risk population – the current rate now seen with mammograms – CRC deaths could be cut in half. In order to help reduce our long-term healthcare costs, we must raise awareness levels for all screenings, whether for cancer, hypertension, diabetes, or high cholesterol, and help people gain access to the screenings they need. New ideas are crucial; for example, some dentists now offer patients opportunities to have their blood pressure screened.
And the payoffs from prevention efforts are real. At Olympus, where the company pays the total cost of wellness programs and the majority of healthcare plan costs, our average medical and pharmacy claims have increased over the past four years by an annual trend rate of only 1.4% – quite striking when compared to our benefits provider’s annual trend rate of 12%. We attribute this experience directly to our strong emphasis on preventative healthcare, combined with greater employee awareness about wellness overall and a desire to be better healthcare consumers.
Our nation’s healthcare problems are complex, but they can be solved with strong leadership and innovative ideas from businesses, governments and individuals. Every CEO has a responsibility to help educate the public about the importance of preventative healthcare and to help find best practices that will improve the quality and efficiency of the nation’s health.
Mark Gumz is the President and CEO of Olympus Corporation of the Americas.