Live from AHIP: Waking Up to a Health Problem

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media , June 19, 2008

Health plans and employers are well aware of the comorbidities associated with diabetes, obesity, and chronic heart failure, but a growing number of industry leaders is looking at another problem that faces almost one-third of Americans—insomnia.

One leader in the area is HealthMedia, Inc., an Ann Arbor, MI-based company that specializes in behavior change interventions. Its products have shown success in the areas of weight management, diabetes, and depression, and the company began promoting the impacts of insomnia earlier this year.

I spoke to Caren Kenney, HealthMedia's director of corporate communications, at the America's Health Insurance Plans conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. She says insomnia is both a productivity and healthcare issue.

For instance, those not getting enough sleep miss work twice as often as "good sleepers," are 2.5 times more likely to commit "serious work errors," and those who sleep six hours or less per night generate 15% more care visits than those who sleep seven or eight hours, according to HealthMedia.

Kenney says healthcare has responded to sleep problems by offering medications rather than exploring the cognitive behaviors associated with treating insomnia. That may soon change.

HealthMedia announced on Thursday that it's starting a new research study with health insurance giant Aetna. The health plan will offer HealthMedia's Overcoming Insomnia and Overcoming Depression online behavior change interventions to at least 400,000 eligible employees of Aetna's large employer members and will conduct a controlled trial to study the effectiveness of the online interventions in improving workplace productivity and reducing healthcare costs.

HealthMedia has taken the lead in promoting insomnia's health and productivity impact, and its program has shown financial and productivity impacts. Realization of insomnia's effect has been slow as health plans and disease management companies have instead focused on chronic diseases, but the partnership with Aetna and the subsequent study may go a long way in convincing others in healthcare that sleep issues deserve a higher profile.

"All you read is that people are working longer hours, are overcommitted, and stressed out. Insomnia is the result. The question is: What do we do about that?" says Kenney.

Les Masterson is senior editor of Health Plan Insider. He is blogging from America's Health Insurance Plans conference in San Francisco this week.

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