May Save More Than Lives

A new study published in the medical journal Sleep shows that sleep apnea treatment can reduce medical insurance costs for other health conditions.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota Morris, analyzed a group of truckers who underwent mandatory diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea.

The researchers found that the trucking company’s sleep apnea program saved its health plan $441 per driver each month in medical insurance costs.

These costs were related to other health care issues – not the cost of treating sleep apnea.

For many years, transportation safety experts have sounded alarms and voiced their concerns about sleep apnea and truckers. For nearly as many years, the trucking industry pushed back against concerns and fought against mandatory screening because of concern over costs.

The study shows that treating sleep apnea is beneficial because of its significant cost savings, which should be of interest to firms that want to save on medical insurance costs.

‘Sleep apnea is a serious health concern that deserves attention and treatment,’ said Dr. Clara Griffey of Legends Dental in Waco, Texas.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common form of sleep apnea, is a widespread – but often undiagnosed – health condition. Researchers estimate that 22 million Americans are living with the condition, and 80 percent of that number are undiagnosed.

Individuals living with OSA experience blocking of the airway during sleep.

‘This blockage is caused when the muscles of the throat relax and fall into the airway, or by a lower jaw that is set too far back, which causes the tongue to fall back and block your breathing,’ Griffey said.

When the airway is blocked, it causes sufferers to awaken throughout the night, often gasping for air.

Awakening partially throughout the night causes a lack of restful sleep, which contributes to other health conditions.

In the study, the researchers estimated that as many as 524,000 out of 1.87 million commercial drivers are driving with sleep apnea at mild or higher levels.

In 2006, the Wisconsin-based trucking firm Schneider National Inc. started a sleep apnea program, in which its drivers were examined, diagnosed and treated without having to pay co-payments.

Testing was done using a home sleep study, allowing drivers to sleep at home versus their truck cabs.

Truckers who were found to be at risk for OSA were treated using CPAP machines, which were covered through the companies health insurance program under preventive care.

The study also examined the medical insurance plans and records of more than 3,000 truck drivers from the company. Researchers found that treating OSA meant a substantial saving in non-OSA medical claims – a big plus for self-insured companies such as Schneider.

The study did not include cost calculations for injuries, lost work time or disability days off associated with untreated OSA. The potential savings also do not reflect the money saved on avoided crashes.

Schneider National has about 10,500 trucks on the road.

Source: Minn. study: Truckers saw offsetting savings with sleep apnea treatment. 26 October 2019.