A 1,000-person firm could lose more than $80,000 annually to migraine-related health costs and lost work time

SAN FRANCISCO – June 13, 2018 – Employers bear more than the costs of medical treatments for employees who suffer with migraine—there are also substantial costs due to lost work time. This is among the findings in a new study released by the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), a non-profit focused on health and productivity.

Migraine is a neurological disease marked by intense, frequent headaches that can last for hours, often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. It affects nearly one in 10 men and one in five women in the U.S. workforce.

IBI’s analysis of Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) survey data found that from 2011 to 2015, employees treated for migraine had higher health care costs on average than employees without migraine treatments—a difference of about $2,000 per year. Employees treated for migraine also had an average of 2.2 more sick days per year, at a cost of almost $600 in wages and benefits. The report also examines disability losses using claims data in IBI’s Health and Productivity Benchmarking database.

“Even though migraine is common, employers have not focused on it because the treatments have been relatively inexpensive. The productivity losses we found in this report should help a lot of companies understand the real impact it has on their bottom line—especially considering that migraine is both underdiagnosed and undertreated,” said Brian Gifford, PhD, Director, Research and Analytics for IBI. “Hopefully employers will take productivity into account when they consider adding new treatment options to their benefit plans and workplace policies that help people with migraine stay on the job. These can deliver not only cost savings for the company, but improved health and well-being for their employees.”

Additional findings in IBI’s analysis include:

  • Employees who take short-term disability leave for migraine miss an average of 38 work days per episode—an economic loss to their employer of about $10,400. If a migraine claimant continues into the long-term disability system—which typically commences after short-term benefits end and can continue until a claimant reaches retirement age—the additional costs are about $37,000 per year.
  • Companies that offer health care benefits, paid sick days and disability insurance benefits can expect about $84,000 in annual migraine-related costs for every 1,000 people it employs. Nearly one-third of these costs are for lost work time due to migraine.
  • Disability claims for migraine may indicate a high risk of exit from the labor force. Thirty seven percent of long-term disability claims remained active and incurring lost work time after two years.
  • About one-third of employees treated for migraine also had obesity. Mood disorders, back pain, anxiety disorders, and hypertensive disease afflicted about one in five employees with migraine. Co-morbidities such as these may complicate efforts to help employees manage their conditions—and underscore the importance of coordinated care approaches.
  • The findings in this report likely undercount the productivity losses due to migraine. Fourteen percent of U.S. workers reported migraine, but only three percent received migraine treatment. Sick day absences for people with migraines who did not receive care for their condition needs further study.

Not included in this report—although previous studies suggest that the toll is substantial—is the impact of on-the-job performance (“presenteeism”) when a migraine attack occurs. “One of the things we found in an earlier migraine study was that employees with migraine and other severe headaches were more likely to report sick day absences and had more difficulty concentrating at work, working carefully, or producing work of good quality,” said Thomas Parry, PhD, IBI President. “The good news is that these difficulties were explained entirely by their frequency of headaches. This suggests that productivity issues can be relieved by helping migraine sufferers manage their condition.”

This study is part of IBI’s Health and Productivity Impact of Chronic Conditions Series developed to help employees manage chronic illnesses to reduce employers’ healthcare and disability costs. The analysis uses high-quality data to model hea