According to an analysis of disability trends gleaned from MetLife's database
of short- and long-term disability claims data, the top five chronic causes
of workplace disability include: lower back disorders, depression, coronary
heart disease, arthritis and pulmonary diseases. Each year, these illnesses
account for nearly 30% of all long-term disability claims MetLife receives and
have been estimated to cost employers more than $500 billion in employee absences,
diminished productivity and increased healthcare costs. The good news is that
these disabilities and costs can be managed and, in many cases, significantly
Ronald S. Leopold, MD, National Medical Director and Vice President of MetLife
Disability has collated and analysed this data in "A Year in the Life of A Million
American Workers", a reader-friendly research guide to be published in 2004.
According to his analysis, the following five chronic conditions are the most
common causes of workplace disability based upon short term disability (STD)
and long-term disability (LTD) claims.
#1: 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; approximately 40% of these people will require benefits
for more than three years. Conservative estimates of the economic burden of
these conditions ( as measured by compensation costs, lost wages and lost productivity)
are between $45 and $54 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine.
For 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.
#3: 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.
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. Overall, experts
estimate that 60 million Americans (or nearly 20% of the population) will be
affected by arthritis by 2020. 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) exceeds $65 billion
#5: 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. These disability
claims are most commonly caused by asthma, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease. 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 U.S. economy for asthma alone is a staggering $12.7 billion
What can employers do to reduce these claims, costs, and consequences? Dr.
Leopold recommends that employers focus on prevention, workplace adjustments
and absence management. "These steps can include investing in health and wellness
programs, employee assistance programs, or making adjustments to their medical
coverage to facilitate early treatment for the conditions most markedly affecting
their employees," says Dr. Leopold.
For more information about depression or other mental health issues, click
Created: 11/24/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.