Chronic Illness Spurs Interest in Disease Management Programs

August 26, 2002 ( - According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), popularity is growing for programs that identify individuals and groups who already have or who are at risk of contracted certain chronic illnesses.

And with little wonder.  Chronic diseases account for three-fourths of health care costs in this country; almost one-half of Americans report having a chronic disease, and on average patients with these diseases cost 3.5 times as much to care for as others.

The idea, according to EBRI, is to keep the diseases under control to prevent the need for hospitalization or other expensive treatment.

The EBRI findings include:

  • The targeted diseases usually encompass diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, and depression. The disease management programs could be operated by health plans or some other outside entity.
  • According to a survey of very large employers (average firm size over 11,000 employees) conducted by Hewitt Associates in 2001), 76% of employers provide disease management programs to their employees.

Data from the 1999 National Worksite Health Promotion Survey showed that among sites with 50 or more employees, 42% offered programs for depression management, 35% for hypertension, 34% for cancer, 34% for diabetes, 33% for cardiovascular conditions, 27% for asthma, and 25% for obesity.

Research and case studies show positive results from individual disease management programs, but there is no conclusive evidence that the programs, in general, improve health or reduce costs in the long term, the EBRI study said.