Workplace 2005

Sick celebrities and healthcare cost control.

by Jay Whitehead

In Americas workplaces, here is one thing you will see a lot of in 2005: An endless parade of celebrities building awareness for their previously hidden diseases. Employers beware. This years hottest topic will be healthcare cost control. HRO can help.

 

I was on the phone the other day with Suzanne Somers. You know Suzanne. Ask 100 Americans about her and their top 10 answers would be: The blonde in the car from the movie American Grafitti, Chrissy from Threes Company, The author of Eat Great, Lose Weight, The Thighmaster and Buttmaster infomercial woman, The star of that TV movie Keeping Secrets, The TV host of Candid Camera, Oh, I just bought her stuff on Home Shopping Network, Shes got that family anti-addiction institute, She wrote that hormone book The Sexy Years, and, at the end of the list, Sure, shes a cancer survivor.

 

April 2005 will mark the fifth anniversary of Suzanne Somerss breast-cancer diagnosis. I interviewed her for my new book, which focuses on the new celebrity openness about previously taboo diseases. Somers has been outspoken about how, after surgery and radiation, she avoided chemotherapy by going non-traditional with a homeopathic drug named Iscador. Today, she is cancer-free and speaking to anyone who will listen about the power of awareness in fighting this dreaded disease. She is also urging employers to be understanding about their employees need for a variety of tools to stay healthy, including insurance plans that allow alternative remedies and employer flexibility to deal with the need to heal.

 

How about Mike Milken? Our keynote speaker at last years NY HR Week/HRO World Conference, Milken has single-handedly revolutionized cancer research. After his prostate cancer diagnosis in 1993, Milken threw the weight of both his considerable intellect and wealth at the problem, with dramatic results. Today, while prostate cancer continues to represent 32 percent of all male cancers, more than $485 million annually is committed to prostate cancer research, and cure rates are as high as 85 percent in even previously incurable forms of the disease.

 

And what about singer-songwriter Naomi Judd, a hepatitis C survivor who gave up her career to fight the disease. Today, as she told me in September 2004, she is disease-free and the celebrity spokesperson for the National Liver Foundation.

 

And former Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, who met me a couple of months ago in her high-rise office overlooking Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. Ferraros battles with multiple myelomaa disease also afflicting New York Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyreresulted in Ferraro spearheading a law signed by President Bush in 2003 that allocates $250 million in federal funding to find a cure and promote education about the blood cancer.

 

And Grammy-winner Shawn Colvin, whose recurring bouts with depression caused her to miss several sold-out shows. Colvin met me twice to stump for employer-awareness of the impact of depression on employee performance.

 

There are more: former Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Magic Johnson, whose battle against AIDS has helped convert him from pariah to profit-minded paragon of the virtue of openness. And former President Bill Clinton, whose emergency heart artery bypass surgery late last year caused more than 400,000 Americans to schedule appointments with their doctors.

 

And how could we forget diabetes sufferer Dick Clark, whose diabetes-caused stroke forced him to hand over his annual Rockin New Years Eve show to Regis Philbin. I met Clark late last year in one of the last interviews before his stroke. He made an emotional plea for employer and employee awareness of the signs of diabetes and wanted everyone to know the heart part, as he called it, or the threat of strokes and heart disease from diabetes. His December stroke, unfortunately, helped bring the message home even harder.

 

To date, I have talked with more than 50 celebrities about their previously secret afflictionscancers, neurological diseases, eating and digestive disorders, mental illness, AIDS, heart disease, and diabetes. All of them are coming out of the closet for two reasons. First, openness is good for finding a cure for their disease. And second, because the cost of employee health care is todays most worried- about employer topic. (Note: 64 percent of all Americans get their health care through employers.)

 

At this years HRO World Conference, April 12-13 in New York City, expect health benefits cost control to be a high-profile celebrity-studded topic. And in 2005, expect HRO providers to start putting more effort into controlling both the $1,400 per employee spent annually on administration, as well as the $6,000 to $9,000 per employee spent on health care.  

Posted January 10, 2005 in Engaged Workforce

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