According to a recent study, the prevalence of arthritis in the US is likely underestimated, especially in adults under age 65. The current estimate of 54 million is focused on doctor-diagnosed arthritis. This leaves a large portion of people suffering from joint pain related to undiagnosed arthritis unaccounted for. When researchers adjusted the current estimate to include this group, the reported national estimate of arthritis prevalence increased by 68%.
The related economic impact of osteoarthritis on employers can be substantial, effecting health care, productivity and disability costs. Unfortunately, this condition does not hit the radar of most employers who are focused on top cost drivers such as diabetes and cancer.
Calculating the direct and indirect costs related to osteoarthritis will likely entail untangling the condition from other chronic conditions. The majority of people with OA have at least one other chronic condition, most commonly cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension.
Much of the discussion around osteoarthritis and productivity is about pain, which is the primary symptom of the condition. Pain associated with OA has a significant impact on mobility and function. People with OA struggle daily with pain that also impacts their emotional and social functioning. Reported “pain days” are associated with increases in both absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace.
Lost productivity, whether in the form of presenteeism (reduced productivity while at work) or absenteeism (missed time from work), is a major source of the economic burden of osteoarthritis for employers. Research has shown that individuals in the workforce with moderate and severe osteoarthritis had significantly more work impairment than their counterparts without OA. (EPIC p. 7)
Individuals with OA spent 30% less time in productive work, and their presenteeism-related lost productivity accounted for three to four times as many lost hours as absenteeism. (EPIC p. 7)
In the US, osteoarthritis is responsible for an aggregate absenteeism cost of $10 billion annually, the equivalent to approximately three lost workdays per worker with OA. Costs associated with presenteeism were much more varied ranging from $700 - $7,000 per employee per year. (OARSI p. 37)
Utilization of Health Services
Osteoarthritis is a complex, chronic condition with no cure. Treatment is ongoing and is typically a combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological options, with varied results depending on the individual. For these reasons, OA is associated with increased use of health services and related costs. According to the Osteoarthritis Action Alliance (OAAA), health care expenditures for arthritis-related conditions doubled from 1996 to 2014, and the per-person medical costs attributed specifically to OA averaged $11,052 per-year between 2008 to 2014.