A new study finds that a group of truckers who underwent sleep apnea treatment saw a significant reduction in medical insurance costs for other health problems.
In a study being published in the medical journal Sleep, researchers at the University of Minnesota, Morris looked at the experience of one trucking firm that mandated sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment for drivers. They found the program saved the employer’s health plan $441 per driver per month in medical insurance costs stemming from health care problems other than sleep apnea.
For years, transportation safety experts have raised alarms about the risk from drivers with sleep apnea, but researchers say the trucking industry has pushed back against mandatory screening due to cost concerns.
“The individual saving ... is very substantial, and deserves attention from everyone who is concerned about high medical insurance costs,” said Steve Burks, a professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, in a statement. “The aggregate savings for 100 drivers, along with higher retention of treated drivers, were sufficient to offset much of the cost” of the treatment program.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common health problem where the airway closes repeatedly during sleep, causing those with the condition to partially awaken throughout the night. The lack of restful sleep contributes to other health problems.
In the study, researchers say that of the 1.87 million U.S. commercial drivers operating non-farm-based heavy trucks, as many as 524,000 are expected to have at least mild sleep apnea.
Starting in 2006, the Wisconsin-based trucking firm Schneider National Inc. launched its sleep apnea program, which provides diagnosis and treatment without co-payments. The vast majority of testing is now done using a home sleep study, allowing drivers to sleep in their own beds or in the cabs of their trucks rather than in a clinic.
A spokeswoman said Schneider National has about 10,500 trucks on the road.
“Those found to be at risk for OSA go through sleep apnea testing,” the company says on its website. “Drivers who are diagnosed by the sleep physician and require treatment have the cost of the machine and supplies covered as part of Schneider’s employee health insurance program. It’s considered preventive care.”
The study looked at the medical insurance and operational records of 3,032 truck driver participants. It found “substantial evidence that OSA treatment is associated with savings in non-OSA-program medical insurance claim costs,” researchers wrote.
“The study firm, like many large motor carriers, was self-insured for most medical claims, and so benefited directly from these savings,” they wrote in the study. “The potential savings in pharmaceutical insurance costs are not included here, nor is the value of injuries, lost work time, or disability days associated with untreated OSA, nor the savings from avoided preventable crashes.”
Christopher Snowbeck • 612-673-4744 Twitter: @chrissnowbeck