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Are your employees avoiding the care they need?

Just because your employees have health insurance doesn’t mean they’re getting the care they need. In fact, statistically speaking, they’re not: Only 8% of people over 35 get all of the high-priority preventive services recommended for their needs.1

High health care costs are part of the equation here, as 22% of people report having opted out of some form of medical care in the past year because of costs.2 But it’s not the only factor at play. Inconvenience, logistical challenges such as transportation, and plain old anxiety have a role here. The fear of doctors is so strong that an estimated 15% to 30% of people whose blood pressure measures high in a medical setting don’t have hypertension at all but rather “white coat syndrome”—an anxious reaction to simply being with a doctor that results in temporarily elevated blood pressure.3

If you want to make sure your employees are at their healthiest, you need to address the avoidance of medical care. Stressing the importance of preventive care can help keep your workforce—and your business—at its strongest.

Preventive health care is more than a nice-to-have

When people invest the time in routine medical care beyond what’s necessitated by illness or injury, they’re setting themselves up for better health outcomes. These services include blood pressure and cholesterol checks, screening for diseases such as cancer and thyroid issues, and behavioral counseling for tobacco use, obesity, alcohol use and mental health issues. Even the buzzword of 2021—vaccinations—is considered preventive care.

Preventive care can catch diseases and other health conditions early, rather than waiting for symptoms to emerge. (Even optometrists and dentists can spot worrisome conditions early, as happened to a 39-year-old woman whose eye doctor was the first to catch her thyroid cancer.) Just as important, it can help lead patients to do the things that can help prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease. This isn’t hypothetical: Of the five leading causes of death in the United States, four of them are chronic conditions that can often be prevented or managed with regular access to medical care.4

Avoiding health care doesn’t mean avoiding health costs

People may delay medical treatment because of costs, but those savings are short-term. The longer someone puts off care, the more it typically costs to treat a condition. And when a condition becomes severe, it can prevent an employee from being able to do his or her job.

Take high blood pressure (and not of the “white coat syndrome” variety). It costs $6,000 more to treat severe hypertension than it does to treat milder cases. It doesn’t stop at medical care, either: Disability costs for people who take leave because of a mild form of hypertension are 52% lower than people take leave for a more severe form.5 Viewed as a whole, that adds up. The direct costs of caring for chronic health conditions are more than $1 trillion annually in the United States—a figure that skyrockets to almost $4 trillion after factoring in lost economic productivity.6

How can you help your employees get the care they need?

Having a wellness program that incorporates preventive care can go a long way toward helping smooth your employees’ path to health. Some parts of the program might be built into your existing benefits: Several of Aflac’s insurance policies offer benefits that encourage policyholders to have routine checkups, for instance. Critical illness and hospital indemnity plans can also help alleviate costs associated with health conditions that may spring from delayed care. And telemedicine programs can help with logistical problems such as transportation, even if additional visits need to be in person. Sometimes taking matters into your own hands can help, as with wellness opportunities such as on-site vaccinations and certain screenings for cancer and other conditions.

But perhaps the most important thing you can do as a business leader is to make wellness and preventive care a part of your company culture. Communicate clearly with your workforce about the importance of preventive care, and remind people about offerings that some employees might have missed in their orientation, such as telehealth appointments.

Also, managers should make it clear that doctor’s visits are a normal, expected part of our lives. Which would you rather have: an employee who misses an afternoon of work tomorrow for a health screening, or an employee who has to take three months of leave to care for a condition that could have been caught at a screening she didn’t attend because she didn’t know how to ask for an afternoon off?

Are you ready to help lead your employees in taking ownership of their health? Contact your Aflac benefits advisor or visit Aflac.com/business.