The purpose of this commentary is to introduce a new chronic condition calculator, a collaboration between The Conference Board of Canada and the amazing team at Health Solutions by Shoppers.
This calculator provides employers of all sizes with a user-friendly way to examine their organization’s estimated chronic disease costs related to mental health and cardiovascular illness.
Opportunity to estimate cost of chronic mental illnesses and cardiovascular diseases
Through early intervention and effective treatment, the negative impact of mental illness and cardiovascular disease can be mitigated.
morewaystobenefit.ca/calculator is a free online chronic condition cost calculator. This tool takes the data you provide and calculates the annual cost of chronic conditions to your business.
The numbers are staggering, and employers can do more to ease their burden and help their employees. After receiving their estimate, employers can book a follow-up call with the Health Solutions by Shoppers team to break it down even further. This consultation will offer insights on the potential benefits of engaging more employees in targeted programs designed to prevent or support people with these two chronic diseases.
It’s an opportunity for organizations to get a frame of reference for their potential risk, based on the number of employees with mental illness and cardiovascular disease and the potential costs. The World Health Organization reports that two-thirds of people with a known mental health disorder never seek help from a health professional. This suggests that without proactive offers of support, chronic diseases and their impact on employee productivity may go unrecognized.
The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that:
- In any given year, one in five people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness.
- Mental illness affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures.
It is estimated that by age 40, about 50 per cent of the Canadian population will have, or will have had, a mental illness. And chronic disease continues to cost Canadian organizations in lost productivity, absenteeism, disability, and drug plans. It is beneficial for leaders to understand that, through proactive health promotion and support programs, their organizations can reduce costs and positively impact workforce sustainability and health.
The first step is to understand what the costs are. Many senior leaders and decision-makers may not understand the total burden of chronic disease on their organization when factoring in both tangible and intangible costs.
Employers are advised to use the Pareto Principle, commonly known as the 80–20 rule, to guide their focus to where they may have the most impact on curbing chronic mental illnesses and cardiovascular diseases within their workforce. Comorbid conditions, such as obesity and diabetes with cardiovascular diseases, are considered as well.
Most of what drives Canadian employers’ costs under the umbrella of chronic mental illnesses and cardiovascular diseases are the following:
- anxiety disorders: an 8.2 per cent prevalence rate
- depression disorders: an 11.0 per cent prevalence rate
- diabetes: a 6.4 per cent prevalence rate
- heart disease: a 4.1 per cent prevalence rate
- obesity: a 14.6 per cent prevalence rate
It’s common for a person with obesity to also develop a cardiovascular disease as well as diabetes. The World Health Organization reports that obesity, which is preventable with proper nutrition and lifestyle choices, has tripled since 1975. In a 2016 speech to the National Academy of Medicine, Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan described diabetes and obesity as a slow-motion disaster.
Obesity is a bigger health crisis globally than hunger. It is expected to continue to grow as a problem. The WHO reports that a healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight, and avoiding tobacco use are effective ways to prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
Making the business case to act
For leaders to focus on mental health and chronic cardiovascular disease, it’s helpful to be clear on the financial impacts, both with respect to cost and lost opportunity.
Estimate the cost of mental illnesses and cardiovascular diseases for a 500-person business, taking into account the following factors related to chronic conditions:
- annual direct cost
- annual medication cost
- total annual economic loss due to absenteeism and presenteeism
- annual disability benefit cost
If you came up with a number around $1 million, you’re close.
There are three key steps to addressing the burden of chronic diseases in your organization:
- Determine chronic disease burden cost at baseline. Use the Chronic Condition Calculator to get an estimate of the size of your chronic disease burden. You will be offered the option to reach out to the Health Solutions team to dive deeper and learn more about programs that can help address these costs and their potential return on investment.
- Evaluate program participation. Using population prevalence rates for anxiety, depression, obesity, and heart disease, determine what percentage of your population is taking advantage of current programs and benefits.
- Close the gap. Create an action plan. Programs that can help employees live life well are available through partners like Health Solutions. Promote and communicate self-help options to educate and engage employees with mental health challenges and cardiovascular disease on risks, treatment, and impact of lifestyle choices. Educate them on the specific programs you may have that can help prevent and manage their health conditions (e.g., iCBT for anxiety and depression). No step is too small. Many programs can have a great impact and still be budget-friendly. Finally, never assume employees are aware; continue to educate and engage your workforce on how to access programs on a regular and ongoing basis.