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Are your male employees avoiding the care they need?

Your employees may have health insurance. That doesn’t mean they’re getting the care they need. In fact, fewer than 10% of people over 35 receive all of the high-priority preventive services recommended for them.1

And then there’s one group that’s notorious for avoiding medical care: men. The idea of men refusing to go to the doctor is the stuff of sitcom jokes, but it reflects reality—nearly two-thirds of men say they put off going to the doctor “as long as possible.”2

Why? Cost is a major factor, with 22% of people saying they’ve skipped medical care in the past year due to the expense.3 The Covid-19 pandemic has also led a large number of people to delay screenings such as colonoscopies, with 41% of people skipping medical treatment in the first months of the coronavirus crisis.4

And then there’s good old-fashioned fear of the doctor: 37% of men admit to withholding information from care providers specifically because they weren’t ready to deal with the potential diagnosis that might result if they told the truth.2Men in particular may also wrestle with gender norms—in a society where men are told to be providers, some men may frame caring for themselves as being non-masculine.5

Care avoidance can hurt your employees—and your business. Here’s why preventive screenings are so crucial, and what you can do to encourage employees to get the care they need.

It’s called “preventive” care for a reason

By definition, regular access to routine medical care is an important driver of positive health outcomes. These services can include blood pressure and cholesterol checks, screening for diseases like osteoporosis and cancer, vaccinations, and counseling for tobacco use, obesity, alcohol use, and mental health issues. A timely visit to the doctor can mean the difference between an early diagnosis and finding out about a serious disease only after it is too late.

Early interventions may lead to behaviors that prevent chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In fact, 4 out of the 5 leading causes of death in the U.S. (heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke) are chronic conditions that can often be prevented or managed with regular access to medical care.6

Preventive care can be especially important for men, who are more likely than women to smoke, engage in binge drinking and suffer from hypertension.7

But it’s not just people’s physical health that suffers here. Putting off preventive care can be expensive, both for employees and for the businesses that employ them. The longer people delay seeking care, the more it typically costs to treat a condition. And the more serious a condition becomes, the more likely it is to prevent an employee from being able to do his or her job.

For instance, it costs $6,000 more to treat severe hypertension than it does to treat milder cases. Even more striking: The disability costs for people who take a leave for a milder form of hypertension are 52% lower than when a leave is taken for a more severe form of the condition.8 And while direct costs of treating chronic health conditions total more than $1 trillion a year in the U.S., the cost rises to nearly $4 trillion when lost economic productivity is factored in.9

What can employers do?

Employer-sponsored wellness programs can go a long way toward making sure employees seek and receive preventive care. For instance, several of Aflac’s insurance policies offer wellness benefits that pay policyholders for getting routine checkups. And there are also telemedicine programs available in many states that are designed to help alleviate logistical problems like transportation, even if additional visits need to be in person.

Supplemental policies can help lessen costs associated with conditions that arise from delayed care. Some companies even bring care providers into the office to speak about common health issues, provide on-site screenings and administer flu vaccinations.

Perhaps most importantly, wellness and preventive care must be a part of the culture of a company. Benefits decision-makers should communicate with employees about the importance of routine care and emphasize options that may be more attractive to some employees, such as telehealth appointments.

Also, managers should make it clear that doctor’s visits aren’t nuisances, but rather an expected and important part of office life. It is far better—both for workers, and for the bottom line—for an employee to miss an afternoon of work today than to miss three months a year from now.

After all, the old saying is a cliché for a reason: An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

Want to empower your workforce to take charge of their health? Contact your Aflac benefits advisor or visit Aflac.com/business today.