Why are employers investing in preventive care?

Lately, I’ve been researching preventive care and the cost effectiveness and efficacy of investing in it. Through this research, I’ve learned first and foremost that the term ‘preventive care’ conjures up a different picture based on your perspective. Public health professionals may see it as fitness and nutrition. Benefits professionals may consider it annual physicals and flu shots.  For the purpose of this post, I am considering preventive care to be annual physicals and associated testing.

After reading through lots of studies here’s what I learned:

  1. Most preventive care does not result in cost savings either short-term or long term.
  2. Cost-effectiveness of any particular intervention varies based on the population targeted – cost effectiveness improves the higher risk the population and decreases when healthy populations are targeted
  3. It is unclear if investment in preventive care yields a healthier population – even over time.
  4. Definitions of preventive care standards vary within the health care field.
    • The organization that uses the most evidence based data is the US Preventive Care Task Force. However, they have deemed annual physicals and many other commonly accepted tests as unnecessary.
    • No official recommendation exists for annual physicals and instead it depends on the age and health status of an individual. The common recommendation is that healthy people under 40 only need 2 physicals per decade!
  5. Investing in preventive care will increase plan costs and since disease outcomes are slow to change, difficult to isolate, and difficult to measure the success.

These findings have me perplexed. They fly in the face of the common wisdom circulating around the benefits world that wellness and prevention are one of the major keys to curtailing escalating health care costs.

If my research is correct, why are employers investing so much money in this area when there is no data to support the endeavor? Is there a body of data that I missed that shows that this is a wise investment?  What am I missing?

Additional Research/Articles:

Preventive Services Without Cost Sharing
US Preventive Care Services Task Force Recommendation Guide – This is the general page since adults and children are split. As a side note, the US health care reform legislation only recognizes the items marked with a grade of ‘A’ or ‘B’ as being covered at 100% as preventive care.




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