- Workers who experienced health events related to two chronic conditions — hypertension and arthritis — are likely to retire later than other workers, according to a study published this month by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
- The study examined a database of 4,672 retirees from industrial company Alcoa. The study's authors provided the "possible interpretation" that the findings "are signaling proper management of these chronic diseases, thus allowing workers to extend their working life." Proper management combined with health insurance provided by Alcoa may have created "a powerful incentive to stay at work longer," the authors said.
- Retirees in the study who worked in positions with increased exposure to heat also retired later, while those with less decision-making autonomy retired earlier. The authors noted that "healthy worker selection" bias may explain the former finding, while the latter finding is consistent with other literature showing that lower perceived control at work is associated with lower participation and lower work satisfaction.
Previous research on healthcare benefits has shown that employees who are actively engaged in their health tend to exhibit better health behaviors. This was one of the conclusions reached by Humana after an internal study of employees who participated in the company's wellness program. Highly-engaged members, according to Humana, had 35% fewer emergency room visits and 30% fewer hospital admissions.
But employers have a mixed record in terms of efforts to engage employees with their care. A 2018 study by Standard Insurance Company, for example, found nearly half (47%) of employees with a chronic health condition weren't referred to a workplace resource program by their employer. A separate survey of workers by Cancer and Careers found most respondents believed managers could be more supportive of those with chronic conditions.
It's notable also that the Boston College study's authors pointed to pension plans as well as health insurance as factors that contribute to employees working longer. That contrasts with research from Mercer, which detailed in a 2017 white paper the experience of an employer that switched from a defined benefit plan (i.e., a pension) to a defined contribution plan. After the switch, and an economic downturn, employees at the company began postponing retirement as retirement account balances dwindled.
Overall, U.S. workers struggle to attain retirement due to a lack of funds. A 2018 report from the National Institute on Retirement Security estimated that about 60% of U.S. workers had no retirement account assets whatsoever.
Even as employers look to improve services for employees with chronic health conditions, attention to varying conditions remains disparate. A December 2019 report from actuarial and consulting firm Milliman found the gap in coverage for mental health and addiction treatment in employer-sponsored health plans is growing. This comes even as federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Labor launched online resources for employers aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of mental health issues.