RALEIGH, N.C. — At its third annual State of Preventive Health summit today, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) urged employers to play a heightened role in the company’s efforts to encourage healthier lifestyle practices. Unhealthy lifestyles continue to drive medical costs. Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), was on hand to describe efforts to recognize businesses that have instituted successful lifestyle improvement programs.
The summit, held at Raleigh’s McKimmon Center, is an annual forum at which data on preventive health is considered by health care experts and other policymakers. This year’s report shows that lifestyle choices continue to drive medical costs, with over $310 million being spent on preventable conditions that often stem from improper diet, unhealthy weight, sedentary lifestyles or tobacco use.
"We live unhealthy lifestyles and assume that medicine will always be there to save us," said BCBSNC president and CEO Bob Greczyn. "But the costs of that approach are overwhelming our health care system. If we are to have an employer-based health care system, employers must play a leading role in stimulating change. Individual choices drive the system, but employers can positively influence those choices."
"Last year we helped to raise awareness of the problem, but there is clearly even more work to be done," said Greczyn. "This year, we’re still hearing that doctors are not regularly talking to our members about weight issues despite worsening obesity trends. There is evidence that the children of today’s employees are on a path to be even more unhealthy than their parents and that many are suffering from a form of diabetes that was once called ‘adult-onset’ diabetes.”
NBGH’s Helen Darling echoed these concerns: "Businesses can’t manage the bottom line or even survive if they don’t help their employees and family members embrace much healthier lifestyles, which will in turn reduce the high rates of cost increases. Businesses and all employers, including public and nonprofit employers, cannot afford the health care system that we have today. We have to help reduce demand for services."
The data underlying the State of Preventive Health report’s findings comes from member surveys and claims submitted in 2004 by 1.1 million of BCBSNC’s members in its primary lines of company business. Since one in three North Carolinians have coverage through BCBSNC, health trends evident in the company’s membership have great significance for the state as a whole. Some of the report’s top-level findings include:
  • Diabetes is being diagnosed in children at almost double the rate of six years ago.
  • Utilization of preventive health care is up slightly, with claims for preventive care increasing over previous years.
  • Sixty percent of BCBSNC members are overweight or obese; up from 55 percent in the previous report.
  • Members still do not perceive their weight accurately, and only one in five who saw a doctor discussed their weight.
  • Twenty-three percent of members get no exercise, and 19 percent use tobacco products.
  • Four leading conditions led to $310 million in costs in 2004: heart disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Darling added: "A few visionary business leaders have recognized that it is critically important to support employees’ and dependents efforts to choose healthier lifestyles. The National Business Group on Health is working to encourage more businesses to follow their lead. We are very pleased to see Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina’s leadership - also on the leading edge nationally."
Greczyn emphasized the importance of employers and insurers working collaboratively. He also explained the growing role played by the company’s Healthy Lifestyle ChoicesSM program, a comprehensive set of health improvement services designed to combat obesity, and Member Health PartnershipsSM, a patient-centered approach to disease management.
The summit included discussion of key health care topics by invited guests and panelists, including:
  • Bob Ihrie, vice president of Compensation and Benefits, Lowe’s Company, Inc.
  • Dr. Eric Finkelstein, health economist, RTI International
  • Dr. Thea Pfeifer, pediatric endocrinologist, NorthEast Medical Center
  • Lynn Hoggard, section chief, Child Nutrition Services, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
  • Anita Holmes, executive director, Center for Health and Healing, a nonprofit affiliate of the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is a leader in delivering innovative health care products, services and information to more than 3.2 million members, including approximately 620,000 served on behalf of other Blue Plans. For 72 years, the company has served its customers by offering health insurance at a competitive price and has served the people of North Carolina through support of community organizations, programs and events that promote good health. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Access BCBSNC online at bcbsnc.com.