Healthy People, Healthy Economies

May 22, 2017

Many top experts in research have long believed in a strong connection between the health of a population and the health of its respective economy. A recent Health of America report from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) took a closer look at those links to see if a typical person’s health could have a positive overall impact on their local economy.

In order to best confirm the relationship between these two concepts, BCBSA utilized the groundbreaking proprietary measurement known as the Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) Health Index, a tool that can effectively quantify the healthiness of each U.S. county.  BCBSA was able to create this index through leveraging data provided by our over 40 million-member strong BCBS network.

This new metric has the potential to help academics, policymakers and the overall healthcare industry better comprehend how health affects a variety of outcomes on the local level. In this case, the BCBS Health Index was able to clarify the links of how a healthy population is related to a strong local economy.

The most direct connection between health and the economy is that healthier workers mean more productive workers. Workers who aren’t in good health and generally don’t feel well don’t perform their best when at work, physically or mentally.

Workers who feel unhealthy or generally unwell are also more likely to be absent from work more frequently, which further impacts productivity and compensation. And, if these health issues become long-term for workers, this can lead to additional consequences, like longer absences, deterioration of job skills and trouble finding re-employment. Those attending school are impacted in a very similar way when it comes to poor health – school and university absences can add up to affect a population’s economy, too.

BCBSA was also able to determine that the effects of the relationship between health and the economy go both ways – a strong economy means better jobs. Those employers are more likely to provide insurance to their employees, as well as the means and education to live a healthier overall lifestyle. This can also have a significant impact on the local economy as large segments of the workforce ages – healthy older workers can keep working and be productive for longer.

The BCBS Health Index data was able to clearly indicate the close ties between these two pillars – counties with a higher health score (for example, a health score of 0.949 versus 0.924) saw a higher per capita income, higher gross domestic product (GDP) and lower unemployment and poverty rates. Even on a grand scale, the connection was strong for most of these outcomes. Healthier areas tend to have faster job, population and income growth, even when compared to areas with similar demographics (but a lower health score) within the same state.

Determining the strength of these connections with the BCBS Health Index is an important step forward in the pursuit of providing better health outcomes for those within the BCBS network throughout the country – we continually strive to keep communities healthy, which in turn keeps their local economies healthy, too.