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drowsy truck driver

A trucking firm that mandated treatment for drivers with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) saved significantly on other medical insurance costs, according to a new study published in Sleep. The University of Minnesota Morris led the research with contributions from Harvard Medical School and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).

OSA is a condition in which a person’s airway closes repeatedly while sleeping, causing the individual to partially wake up each time, though not enough to be aware of what is happening. Sufferers do not get fully restful sleep, which negatively affects many other medical conditions. What’s more, untreated OSA is associated with significantly higher rates of serious preventable truck crashes.

“We know from previous research that OSA-positive drivers who aren’t receiving treatment can have a fivefold greater risk of serious preventable crashes,” explained Jeffrey Hickman, research scientist for VTTI’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety.

Researchers analyzed the medical insurance claims of drivers enrolled in the study firm’s sleep apnea screening, diagnosis and treatment program. To estimate the savings in claims for an individual driver, the research team compared the costs of drivers accepting treatment to those refusing it. Then, to estimate the aggregate savings, the researchers compared the 100 drivers who were diagnosed and treated to 100 “screen-positive” controls (drivers who screened likely to have OSA but not yet diagnosed).

This study found that:

  • an employer-mandated program to screen, diagnose and treat truck drivers for OSA saved the study firm $441 per driver per month in non-OSA-program medical insurance costs;
  • the aggregate medical cost savings ($153,000 for 100 drivers over 18 months) were reduced somewhat by driver turnover. However, treated drivers were also retained longer. The total savings substantially offset the cost of operating a mandatory OSA program. 

“Our results suggest that employer-mandated OSA programs can lower the medical costs for associated conditions and contribute to a healthier, safer workforce,” said Hickman.

This research was funded by the Region 5 Roadway Safety Institute, the University of Minnesota Morris, the study firm, Harvard University, and VTTI.

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