Paper cutouts of shirts and tiesWhile reduced absenteeism and caregiver burden are importantfactors for employers, they don't resonate quite as much withpayers. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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When assessing the value of a new drug or medical treatment,insurance companies and other payers place a premium on efficacy,safety and cost.

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Employers also care about whether adopting an innovation withintheir health care plan would result in reduced absenteeism andcaregiver burden, as well as increased presenteeism and quality of life. However,payers place a low priority on such "indirect benefits," accordingto new study published in the Journal ofOccupational and Environmental Medicine by researchers at theNational Pharmaceutical Council and RTI Health Solutions.

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Related: Rethinking health and productivity for the 21stcentury workplace

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"Several factors may explain this disconnect, including the factthat employers can shift the cost and risk of health care topayers, but they cannot shift broader impacts of lost productivityand functional status outside of their organizational boundaries,"Michael Ciarametaro, vice president of research at NPC and one ofthe study's authors, says in a NPC blog post.

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"While the employer values improvements in productivity and cangain economically by the use of medications that improve it, payersdo not economically gain from workers' productivity," Ciarametarosays.

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To be sure, it can be difficult for payers to measure workerproductivity when determining whether they will cover a new drug ortreatment, due to the lack of resources to collect and analyze thedata, all of the survey respondents concede. However, a majority ofthe respondents agree that measuring reduced absenteeism might beeasier, and could provide useful insight in the other indirectbenefits, particularly for longer-term medical conditions thatcould result in disability.

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"Because the absenteeism measure has the fewest measurementchallenges and is valued by employers, efforts to incorporatebroader benefits into value assessment should begin withabsenteeism," says David Wamble, director of health economics atRTI Health Solutions and a study author.

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"Value assessment frameworks" to help in purchase and coveragedecision-making are becoming more popular, the researchers say.

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"The goal of these frameworks is to estimate the improvement inpatient outcomes from a pharmaceutical product or technology andthe increased and/or offsetting costs associated with use of thattechnology compared with other available treatments," they say.

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Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in Running Springs, Calif. She has more than three decades of journalism experience, with particular expertise in employee benefits and other human resource topics.