Patricia Chaney

Why Are Gen Xers Falling Behind on Health Care?

As baby boomers transition out of the workforce, millennials are still generally too inexperienced to fill their vacated leadership roles. That’s where Generation X comes in.

However, Generation X is falling behind with health care. According to Forbes, at least a third of people between the age of 45 and 59 were skipping health care. And poor employee health can lead to higher care costs and lower productivity at work.

Fortunately, there are things that employers can do to help Gen Xers understand the importance of prioritizing health care.

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Skipping Health Care in Middle Age

Conducted by the West Health Institute and NORC at the University of Chicago, the survey reported on by Forbes looked at more than 1,300 adults. It found that despite the fact that the majority of this age group had health insurance, many were not receiving care when they needed it. Almost half didn’t see a doctor when they were sick or injured, and 30 percent didn’t fill prescriptions or took less than the recommended dose.

The two most cited reasons for these gaps in care? Cost and value. Many Gen Xers said they don’t feel they get enough value for the money they spend when they do seek out health care.

What This Means for Employers

While it’s well-known that chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart disease are costly for insurers, employers and individuals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that employers bear 58 percent of total medical costs. In addition to medical costs, chronic conditions mean increased absenteeism. For businesses with fewer than 100 employees, the CDC estimates that the number of missed days could be as low as 6 and as high as 31 per year for chronic diseases or associated risk factors, including smoking and obesity.

But how do you speak to your Gen X employees about their health habits? First, let’s take a closer look at their struggles. AARP found that more than half of Gen Xers feel overwhelmed by financial burdens, which explains why cost concerns may drive them to avoid medical care. Yet, 87 percent feel they are in good health and focus on healthy lifestyles and preventive care.

Looking at Generation X in the workplace, though, it’s not all bad news for employers. Workplace wellness programs might be just what Gen X workers need to stay on top of their health. The CDC report suggests that these programs have the potential to reduce both medical costs and absenteeism.

What Employers Can Do

In addition to establishing top-notch workplace wellness programs, creating a culture that emphasizes the importance of prioritizing health care may help Gen Xers get and stay healthy. Considering ensuring that your business provides the following elements:

  • Mental health support: Stress is a risk factor for heart disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, along with playing a role in many other negative health outcomes. Providing support, perhaps in the form of an employee assistance program, may help employees reduce harmful stress.
  • Work-life balance initiatives: Giving employees a chance to unplug from work can help lessen stress, too.
  • Health screenings: If employees aren’t visiting a doctor, they may not be aware of burgeoning health issues, like high blood pressure or prediabetes. Bring in experts to perform biometric screenings at work once or twice a year to make it easier for employees to get a snapshot of their health.
  • Exercise opportunities: AARP found that only 35 percent of Gen Xers exercise often. Offer incentive programs for exercise, begin walking groups at work, offer discounts to local gyms or run yoga or tai chi classes for employees.
  • Healthy food choices: Inventory the food options in your vending machines and/or cafeteria and see if there’s an opportunity to add in more healthy choices.

This is only a small sample of the possibilities available to improve workplace health. The effort it takes to address the factors that negatively affect employee health is likely to bring a strong return on investment through lower medical costs and higher employee productivity.

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