Employer treatment of sleep apnea can save not only money from insurance payouts down the road, it can also increase worker productivity. That was the announcement from the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) at a recent conference.
The conference was called to discuss the financial and clinical implications of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder in which a person stops breathing multiple times a night. Common symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, frequent awakenings, and feeling unrefreshed, even after spending a full night in bed. People who have sleep apnea usually are unaware they have the condition, which usually must be diagnosed through an overnight sleep study (although new sleep apnea diagnosis tools are now being developed).
The economic costs of sleep apnea are huge, said ASAA Executive Director Edward Grandi. Recent research from Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine estimates that there are $67 billion to $165 billion in annual costs related to sleep apnea. The costs include money lost from decreased productivity, traffic accidents related to fatigue, and health care expenditures. Grandi said that employers should take sleep disorders seriously because the cost attributed to diagnosis and treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are a small proportion of the overall estimated economic burden of the disease. The estimated cost to diagnose and treat moderate to severe OSA is estimated at $2 billion to $10 billion per year.
“Employers should view the cost of diagnosing and treating OSA as an investment that will produce significant savings in health insurance spending and significant increases in employee productivity. Moreover, it will enhance the safety and general well-being of the workforce,” said Grandi. “The consequences of untreated OSA can be subtle, like people showing up to work fatigued and being unproductive, or really dramatic, like truck drivers falling asleep at the wheel and killing people, which results in multimillion dollar lawsuits.”
Grandi recommended that employers begin a screening program for their workers, particularly in those professions in which there is a high prevalence of sleep apnea, such as trucking. Truck drivers are considered to be at a higher risk compared to the rest of the population because many drivers are middle-aged males working odd hours, making them even more likely to be sleepy. Those considered at the highest risk of sleep apnea development are male, over age 40, and obese, although anyone can have the disorder, including children.
The standard treatment for sleep apnea is for the individual to wear a CPAP machine while sleeping.