Context: While respiratory infections are a leading cause of morbidity, there is little information on the costs of medically treating these conditions, or on their workplace impact.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to estimate the economic burden of respiratory infections from the perspective of an employer.
Design, setting, and participants: A total of 63,890 patients with at least one diagnosis for a respiratory infection in 1997 were identified in a claims database of a national Fortune 100 company. Outcome measures were compared to those of a 10% random sample of beneficiaries in the overall beneficiary population.
Main outcome measures: The annual per capita costs for each category of respiratory infections were determined for beneficiaries of this major employer by analyzing all medical, prescription drug, and disability claims in 1997.
Results: In 1997, the total cost to the employer per patient, as well as medical-service utilization, were higher among patients with respiratory infections than among beneficiaries in the overall beneficiary population. Significant variations exist in costs across the 11 selected respiratory infections. For example, annual per capita employer expenditures for patients with respiratory infections totaled $4,397, while expenditures for patients with pneumonia and patients with acute tonsillitis/pharyngitis were $11,544 and $2,180, respectively, as compared with costs for the average beneficiary, which was $2,368.
Conclusions: Patients with respiratory infections present an important financial burden to employers. We estimate that the cost to employers of patients with respiratory infections in the United States in 1997 was $112 billion, including costs of medical treatment and time lost from work.