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Working Employees and Caring for an Ill Parent

By March 31, 2010Commentary

MetLife has a research group called the Mature Market Institute which has published several studies on employees who must care for a parent with an illness, usually chronic disease.  One of those research pieces indicated that employers lose between $17 and $34 billion a year due to lack of productivity from employees dealing with a sick parent.  The latest study, done in conjunction with the National Alliance for Caregiving and the University of Pittsburgh, focuses on the relative health care costs of employees who do and don’t have to care for an ill parent.  (MetLife Study)

The findings are quite interesting.  Caregiving employees have about 8% higher medical expenses compared to non-caregiving ones.  This represents about $13.4 billion annually.  And because only caregiving for parents was considered, the costs are probably higher if spouses and children are taken into account.  In addition, these employees are more likely to report that they are in poor health and to have more high risk health behaviors.  They also obviously miss more time at work.  These effects showed up not just in the oldest employees but in younger cohorts as well.

It is unclear what might cause the higher health costs in caregivers.  Stress is a possible explanation; perhaps even genetics plays a role.  Less time to exercise and engage in healthy behaviors may contribute.  Employers have an increased awareness of the problem and a significant minority offer assistance to employees, but it appears that more can be done.

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