MetLife: Top Five Ailments Cost Employers $500B+

October 21, 2003 ( - The top five workplace disability claims, estimated to cost employers more than $500 billion, include lower back problems, depression, coronary heart disease, arthritis, and pulmonary diseases, according to a MetLife study.

The study said these illnesses, which together represent a third of all of MetLife’s long-term disability claims, and which hurt companies through employee absences, lower productivity and higher health costs, can be managed and even reduced.

“Knowing what conditions are impacting employees is the first step for companies seeking solutions to manage costs and increase productivity,” noted Ronald Leopold, a doctor and National Medical Director and Vice President of MetLife Disability. “By understanding how their company’s absences compare with industry norms, employers can identify risk reduction programs to correct problem areas. This way precious health care dollars are spent where they can have the greatest impact – including preventative medical services such as mental health services, physical rehabilitation services and cardiac wellness programs.”

According to the MetLife analysis of its short- (STD) and long-term disability (LTD) database, the most common ailments include:

Lower Back Disorders – For every one million workers, MetLife receives an estimated 5,470 STD claims for lower back strain and 2,883 STD claims for inter-vertebral disc disorders each year. Half of employees on disability for lower back strain will be absent from work for at least a month. Half of those with disc disorders are out for more than two months. Another 550 LTD claims are filed each year because of lower back conditions. Conservative cost estimates are between $45 and $54 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine.

DepressionFor every one million workers, MetLife receives approximately 3,374 STD claims and 222 LTD depression-related claims each year. While STD claims for depression are spread evenly among all age categories, the rate of depression is slightly higher for women and also higher in more sedentary jobs. One-third of employees absent from work due to depression will be out for more than a month. The estimated economic cost to the workplace for employees’ depression is $44 billion, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Coronary Heart Disease – For every one million workers, MetLife receives approximately 1,833 STD and 104 LTD claims for coronary artery disease in a given year. These claims are higher for men than women and higher among older employees. Nearly two-thirds of employees on short-term disability for this condition will be out of work for at least a month. Americans will pay about $352 billion in 2003 for related medical costs for this disability, according to the American Heart Association.

Arthritis – For every one million workers, MetLife receives 1,715 arthritis-related STD and 170 LTD claims. Half of employees receiving short-term disability benefits for this condition will be absent for at least two months. The average long-term disability recipient for this condition will be out of the workplace for more than six years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the total cost associated with arthritis (including medical care and lost productivity) is more than $65 billion annually.

Pulmonary Diseases MetLife estimates that, out of every one million workers, there will be 1,467 STD claims and 74 LTD claims for pulmonary diseases annually. About 30% of these employees will miss more than a month of work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the cost to the US economy for asthma alone is $12.7 billion.