As we talked about last week, sleep apnea increases your medical expenses. Unfortunately, sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed and may even go untreated after diagnosis, resulting in higher medical expenses.

Promoting treatment and educating people about the dangers of sleep apnea can improve treatment rate and lower costs. A study of the Union Pacific Railroad Employees Health Systems (UPREHS) showed just how much difference an education plan could make: a savings of $4.9 million.

The Problem of Treatment

The UPREHS is a large employer healthcare group, with more than 22,000 members, about 10% of whom had been diagnosed with sleep apnea. However, in 2005 less than a quarter of those diagnosed were receiving treatment for their sleep apnea. Without treatment, people remain at risk for numerous complications of sleep apnea, such as heart attack, stroke, elevated blood pressure, and more.

To attempt to overcome the problem of treatment, the UPREHS designed a simple, but effective, education campaign. They mailed a 3-set series of education postcards to employees at 6 week intervals. The oversized cards informed people about the risks of sleep apnea, how to be diagnosed, and how to get a CPAP device.

Response to the Campaign

In response to the postcards, employees began signing up to get their CPAP devices at an increased rate. In the first year, members receiving treatment went from 23% to 30%, then to 40%, and finally to 53%.

To find out the cost savings because of this increased treatment, they looked at hospital admissions and overall medical costs. They determined that people who were getting treatment for their sleep apnea incurred about $200 less per month in medical expenses than those who were not. Adding that total up over the time that people diagnosed with sleep apnea had been using CPAP because of the education campaign, they found the total savings of $4.9 million.

A Missed Opportunity

Although the number of sleep apnea patients getting treatment increased dramatically, it was still low. For a condition as serious as sleep apnea, having only 53% of patients treated is unfortunate. It’s likely that number could have been increased if patients had been offered oral appliance therapy as well as CPAP. However, because this study covers the years 2005-2008, before most insurance plans covered oral appliance therapy, they could be forgiven for this oversight, but it’s hoped that, moving forward, education plans will include oral appliance therapy.

How Much Can Your Business Save?

Even if you don’t have 22,000 employees in your company, you may be able to experience significant savings on your health insurance plan if you run a sleep apnea education plan that encourages people to get treatment. You may not see the savings directly, but if you work with your insurer, it’s likely that you could see significantly reduced rates.

If you want to learn more about combatting untreated sleep apnea among your employees, talk to your insurance company or contact the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center in Omaha.