NU Online News Service, March 26, 2004, 5:12 p.m. EST – Employers might have to cope with more arthritis, more heart disease and waves of antibiotic-resistant bacterial epidemics in coming decades.[@@]

Dr. Ronald Leopold, national medical director of the disability unit at MetLife Inc., New York, makes those predictions in “A Year In The Life Of A Million American Workers,” a book that draws heavily on government studies and analysis of MetLife’s enormous disability claims database to forecast employee health and disability trends.

Leopold puts well-known information about the aging of the U.S. work force together with MetLife data about how aging affects employee disability rates.

Already, “approximately 10% of an employer’s work force will be on short-term disability leave over the course of a year,” Leopold says in a statement about the book.

The employees who are out on short-term disability leave account for about half of a typical employer’s medical claims costs, Leopold adds.

Within 15 years, employers might have to cope with a combination of preventable and not-so-preventable trends that could lead to dramatic increases in the underlying medical and disability-related costs, Leopold warns.

Employees hooked on ice cream or cigarettes might question how easy obesity and smoking really are to fight. But the aging of the work force could soon lead to a doubling of some forms of cancer and a trebling of some forms of heart disease, and that could make employers and society as a whole far less tolerant of sedentary lifestyles, smoking and obesity, Leopold says.

Employers might be far more likely to penalize benefit plan members for smoking or engaging in other risky behavior, Leopold predicts.

Leopold also predicts that employers will have to find ways to accommodate a doubling in the prevalence of arthritis and protect employees against antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases.

Leopold says efforts to hold down health insurance rates by increasing employees’ out-of-pocket costs could backfire, by damaging the health of lower-income employees.

Even when employers provide some kind of health coverage, “industries with large populations of low-wage workers will face rising health care and disability costs,” Leopold says.

Employers could respond by demanding that health insurers do more to keep employees healthy and speed sick employees’ return to work, Leopold says.

More information about the book is available at http://metlifeiseasier.com/disabilityalmanac/about_book.asp