Employers across the country have been putting greater emphasis on the health of their employees over the last few years — it’s both the right thing to do and can help to save on insurance premiums. Particularly for self-insured employers, having a healthy population can be an important success factor for any business.

With that in mind, there are some diseases that employers should be aware of due to their very serious nature and the potentially devastating impact on insurance costs. One of these is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a disease that is on the rise among younger generations, and may impact as much as 25% of the American population.

The costs can be astronomical, both for patient and employer. Fatty liver disease is a major reason that more individuals need liver transplants. The average “list price” for a liver transplant is about $330,000, while the average negotiated price, through an insurance company, is $100,400. Additionally, liver transplant complications can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more, depending on the complication. Post-transplant, the long-term drug regimen can cost more than $3,000 per month — having that Rx spend on your benefits program can be a significant negative for employers.

Bloomberg

Consequently, awareness of the disease is important. Most people are not aware of fatty liver disease until they are told that they have this potentially deadly, life-sapping condition. Even once diagnosed, people often don’t know how to address the situation and reduce their risk. Early detection and intervention of NAFLD can prevent, slow or reverse symptoms, and reduce liver cancer, liver failure and future liver transplants.

What employers should do

Employers can assist employees by raising awareness of the rising incidence of NAFLD and what can be done to prevent it.

It begins with educating employees about who is at risk. NAFLD is more prevalent in individuals with type 2 diabetes, those with symptoms of metabolic syndrome and individuals who are obese. While some NAFLD patients have no common risk factors associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, the following symptoms and conditions are frequently associated with the disease:

· Diabetes
· Excess weight or obesity
· High cholesterol or triglycerides
· Rapid weight loss
· Poor eating habits
· Metabolic Syndrome
· Sedentary lifestyle

These factors showcase the importance of wellness and condition/disease management programs —these initiatives when well-designed are intended to influence employees to make better health choices — for example getting them moving and active. NAFLD can be prevented or slowed by addressing sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits, and encouraging those impacted to work with their healthcare provider and nurse health coach/nurse navigator to manage health risks and chronic disease conditions.

Consequently, employers should work to add people with NAFLD to the candidates for wellness promotion and/or condition and disease management, as they do for those with other chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, advanced chronic kidney disease or other ongoing health diagnoses that improve with professional nurse intervention.

HR professionals, benefits managers and wellness program administrators need to be aware of NAFLD, and raise awareness of it among their employee populations. Knowledge is power, and early diagnosis and attention can be a lifesaver.

Understanding how to prevent nonalcoholic fatty liver disease should be a part of your wellness initiatives, both for your employees’ sake and for the company’s financial wellbeing.

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Barbara Rutkowski

Barbara Rutkowski

Dr. Barbara Rutkowski, EdD, MSN, CCM is vice president, clinical operations at Advanced Plan for Health.