Valentine's Day is almost here, and romantics throughout the nation have hearts and flowers on their minds. Perhaps it's only appropriate that February is also National Heart Health Month and a great time to start taking steps to be heart healthy. According to a report compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 600,000 Americans die from heart disease each year.
That's one out of every four deaths, making heart disease the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women.1 Treatment is also expensive: According to American Heart Association projections, direct medical costs stemming from coronary vascular disease will triple from $273 billion to $818 billion between 2010 and 2030.2
Start by Encouraging Heart Health
American companies are feeling the effects of their employees' heart health. There's no doubt that heart disease has a major impact on corporate financials: Absenteeism, workers' compensation, health benefits and low productivity all come with costs both tangible and intangible.
With respect to heart health, companies should start by encouraging employees to adopt better lifestyle habits. According to the CDC, heart disease is not only preventable, but it is also controllable. It's important to communicate with workers about the dangers of heart disease and the steps that can be taken to avoid it.
For example, here are eight things employees can do to improve their overall heart health:
- Eat a diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables as well as foods that are low in saturated fat and trans-fat and high in fiber. Limiting salt or sodium can also lower blood pressure.
- Maintain a healthy weight, because being overweight or obese can increase the risk of heart disease.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity not only helps workers maintain a healthy weight, it can also lower cholesterol.
- Monitor blood pressure at home, at a pharmacy or at a doctor's office.
- Stop smoking because cigarettes are a major risk factor.
- Limit alcohol consumption since it increases blood pressure.
- Have cholesterol levels checked by a doctor at least once every five years.
- Manage diabetes by closely monitoring blood sugar.
Other ways to keep your heart healthy include getting enough rest and limiting stress. Experts say stress may affect behaviors and factors that increase heart disease risk, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, physical inactivity and overeating.
Some people may choose to drink too much alcohol or smoke cigarettes to "manage" their chronic stress; however, these habits can increase blood pressure and may damage artery walls.3
Follow up With the Benefits of Critical Illness Insurance
Advances in medicine mean people are living longer, even if they suffer from illnesses such as heart disease. Naturally, living longer with a critical illness means paying more treatment-related costs - a possibility that has many Americans concerned. Given the frequency with which Americans suffer heart disease, there has never been a better time to offer critical illness insurance at the work site.
As employers evaluate, choose and communicate their benefits offerings to employees, it's important they convey the financial impact of being diagnosed with an illness such as heart disease. The 2014 Aflac WorkForces Report revealed that health care costs have a long-lasting effect on American workers' creditworthiness.
Participating employees said medical costs are affecting their credit scores, keeping them from paying other bills and prohibiting their efforts to save for retirement or rainy days. Additionally, 66 percent said they would not be able to adjust to the large financial costs related to a serious injury or illness, and 49 percent had less than $1,000 on hand to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses.4
The Aflac study's findings are echoed by those of the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau, which found that nearly 20 percent of U.S. consumers - or almost 43 million people - have unpaid medical debts. The study also found that more than half of all debt listed on credit reports stems from medical expenses and that the average person with overdue medical debt owes $1,766.5
Why Critical Illness Insurance Benefits Employers
In addition to playing havoc with employees' finances, the high price tag associated with critical illnesses can also affect a company's bottom line. The financial distress suffered by workers leads to absenteeism, on-the-job distraction and a general sense of anxiety that's difficult to leave at the door.
The AHA estimates that heart disease-related productivity losses for American businesses will rise from $172 billion in 2010 to $276 billion in 2030, an increase of 61-percent.2 When working with human resources representatives, insurance professionals should provide information about how critical illness insurance fits into the picture.
In general, critical illness policies work side-by-side with major medical plans by offering cash benefits that can be used to pay deductibles, copayments and other out-of-pocket medical costs. Because benefits can be used as employees see fit, they can also go toward household expenses, including the rent or mortgage, utility bills, credit card debt and any other costs threatening workers' financial security.
A Heart-healthy Option
Critical illness is a realistic and affordable way for employers to show they care about their workers' heart health as well as their financial health. Since February ushers in not only Valentine's Day but National Heart Health Month, it presents a great opportunity for insurance professionals to have heart-to-heart chats with clients about the value of critical care insurance.
About the Author
Keith Pellerin, a 27-year financial and insurance industries veteran, is Aflac's vice president of Product Management and Innovation. He oversees product strategy, development, design and implementation including competitive intelligence.Visit aflac.com, call 1.888.861.0251 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.