Chronic conditions lead health care spend in the U.S.

Addressing chronic conditions can help employers reduce health care costs and promote better health among their employees.

Chronic conditions, including heart disease and stroke, cancer, diabetes and prediabetes, contribute to 90% of the $4.1T spent on health care in the U.S.And, with 6 in 10 U.S. adults managing a chronic disease and 4 in 10 managing 2 or more, that expense can take a financial toll on employees and employers.Plus, that spend is projected to climb in coming years, as Millennials, who now make up the majority of today’s workforce, get older and become more at-risk for chronic conditions. In fact, a recent report uncovered that 44% of Millennials have been diagnosed with at least 1 chronic condition.2

In addition to the costs of increased hospitalizations, expensive medications and higher utilization of medical care, there are also hidden ramifications that may be harder to measure.

For instance, dealing with a chronic condition may impact an employee’s mental health, which can lead to distraction and lower on-the-job productivity, not to mention increased use of sick days and even short-term leaves of absence as they undergo treatment.These absences may mean other team members have to pick up the slack to meet business objectives, and this added work can cause a ripple effect of job dissatisfaction, which can lead to a further loss of productivity.

Top 3 chronic conditions at-a-glance

Heart disease and stroke:4

  • Costs employers $363B annually
  • Accounts for 30% of deaths — more than 859,000 per year


  • Costs $185B annually and is expected to rise to $240B by 2033
  • Results in 600,000 deaths each year

Diabetes and prediabetes:6

  • Costs $327B annually
  • Impacts 37.3M people and 96M adults with prediabetes

A chronic condition is defined as a condition that lasts for at least a year, needs ongoing treatment and/or limits routine daily activities. Chronic conditions are also the leading cause of death and disability in the U.S. Although chronic conditions can have a negative impact on employee lives and employer bottom lines, targeted clinical strategies and employee engagement programs are designed to help minimize that impact.

Preventing chronic conditions starts with healthy habits and early detection

If you look at the contributing factors of chronic conditions, lifestyle habits play a major role. Just 5 chronic disease risk factors — including smoking, physical inactivity and obesity — end up costing U.S. employers over $36B a year in loss of productivity due to missed work.7

These risk factors can take years to manifest into more serious conditions. This means that people at risk may not see symptoms emerge until a disease is established, and they may not be motivated to keep up with routine preventive health checks.

Employers have an opportunity to help their employees stay healthier to keep health care costs in check by creating a culture that prioritizes health and overall well-being.

By providing rewards and incentives for healthy behaviors, including early detection screenings and wellness programs, employers can make preventive care a convenient option. Programs like UnitedHealthcare Rewards aim to help incent and empower employees as they build healthier habits. When employees are actively engaged and have access to the right tools, they can become powerful advocates for their own well-being.


“Nearly half of Millennials either have a chronic condition or are at risk of developing one. As the dominant part of the workforce, it’s critical that Millennials start engaging with their health — and employers can play an important role by providing wellness reward programs.” 

— Craig Kurtzweil, Chief Analytics Officer, UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual

Providing guidance and resources to help manage chronic conditions

Employers can also adopt strategies that help employees manage chronic conditions once they are diagnosed. Chronic diseases can be complex and difficult to navigate, especially at the onset when there can be so many unknowns about the road ahead.

Support programs tailored to specific chronic conditions can alleviate some of the more complicated aspects of dealing with a chronic condition. Providing these resources allows employees to focus less on the logistical aspects of their disease and more on managing their symptoms.

For instance, the Centers of Excellence (COE) program at UnitedHealthcare is a national network of providers that helps employees with complex or chronic conditions achieve better health outcomes at a reduced cost. The COE program has resulted in a 21% to 42% cost savings off a billed rate.8

Advocacy programs are also an effective tool employers can deploy to help make it easier for individuals to make more informed choices and maximize their benefits. The UnitedHealthcare® app and® deliver targeted, personalized guidance to simplify the benefits experience and deliver the best possible care.

While chronic conditions make up the majority of employer health care spend, there are opportunities for employers to lower those costs through employee engagement. Wellness incentive programs, support resources tailored to specific conditions and advocacy all have the potential to help employers manage costs and deliver the care their employees need.

Current broker or employer group client?

Access uhceservices to check commissions, manage eligibility, request ID cards and more.