Occupational Health – Workplace Health Management

Workplace Health Management (WHM) There are four key components of workplace health management:

Occupational Health and Safety
Workplace Health Promotion
Social and lifestyle determinants of health
Environmental Health Management

In the past policy was frequently driven solely by compliance with legislation. In the new approach to workplace health management, policy development is driven by both legislative requirements and by health targets set on a voluntary basis by the working community within each industry. In order to be effective Workplace Health Management needs to be based on knowledge, experience and practice accumulated in three disciplines: occupational health, workplace health promotion and environmental health. It is important to see WHM as a process not only for continuous improvement and health gain within the company, but also as framework for involvement between various agencies in the community. It offers a platform for co-operation between the local authorities and business leaders on community development through the improvement of public and environmental health.

The Healthy Workplace setting – a cornerstone of the Community Action Plan.

The Luxembourg Declaration of the European Union Network for Workplace Health Promotion defined WHP as the combined effort of employers, employees and society to improve the health and well-being of people at work

This can be achieved through a combination of:

Improving the work organization and the working environment
Promoting active participation of employees in health activities
Encouraging personal development

Workplace health promotion is seen in the EU network Luxembourg Declaration as a modern corporate strategy which aims at preventing ill-health at work and enhancing health promoting potential and well-being in the workforce. Documented benefits for workplace programs include decreased absenteeism, reduced cardiovascular risk, reduced health care claims, decreased staff turnover, decreased musculoskeletal injuries, increased productivity, increased organizational effectiveness and the potential of a return on investment.

However, many of these improvements require the sustained involvement of employees, employers and society in the activities required to make a difference. This is achieved through the empowerment of employees enabling them to make decisions about their own health. Occupational Health Advisors (OHA) are well placed to carry out needs assessment for health promotion initiatives with the working populations they serve, to prioritize these initiatives alongside other occupational health and safety initiatives which may be underway, and to coordinate the activities at the enterprise level to ensure that initiatives which are planned are delivered. In the past occupational health services have been involved in the assessment of fitness to work and in assessing levels of disability for insurance purposes for many years.

The concept of maintaining working ability, in the otherwise healthy working population, has been developed by some innovative occupational health services. In some cases these efforts have been developed in response to the growing challenge caused by the aging workforce and the ever-increasing cost of social security. OHA’s have often been at the forefront of these developments.

There is a need to develop further the focus of all occupational health services to include efforts to maintain work ability and to prevent non-occupational workplace preventable conditions by interventions at the workplace. This will require some occupational health services to become more pro-actively involved in workplace health promotion, without reducing the attention paid to preventing occupational accidents and diseases. OHA’s, with their close contact with employees, sometimes over many years, are in a good position to plan, deliver and evaluate health promotion and maintenance of work ability interventions at the workplace.

Health promotion at work has grown in importance over the last decade as employers and employees recognize the respective benefits. Working people spend about half of their non-sleeping day at work and this provides an ideal opportunity for employees to share and receive various health messages and for employers to create healthy working environments. The scope of health promotion depends upon the needs of each group.

Some of the most common health promotion activities are smoking reducing activities, healthy nutrition or physical exercise programs, prevention and abatement of drug and alcohol abuse.

However, health promotion may also be directed towards other social, cultural and environmental health determinants, if the people within the company consider that these factors are important for the improvement of their health, well-being and quality of life. In this case factors such as improving work organization, motivation, reducing stress and burnout, introducing flexible working hours, personal development plans and career enhancement may also help to contribute to overall health and well-being of the working community.

The Healthy Community setting In addition to occupational health and workplace health promotion there is also another important aspect to Workplace Health Management. It is related to the impact that each company may have on the surrounding ambient environment, and through pollutants or products or services provided to others, its impact on distant environments. Remember how far the effects of the Chernobyl Nuclear accident in 1986 affected whole neighbouring countries.

Although the environmental health impact of companies is controlled by different legislation to that which applies to Health and Safety at work, there is a strong relationship between safeguarding the working environment, improving work organization and working culture within the company, and its approach to environmental health management.

Many leading companies already combine occupational health and safety with environmental health management to optimally use the available human resources within the company and to avoid duplication of effort. Occupational health nurses can make a contribution towards environmental health management, particularly in those companies that do not employ environmental health specialists.

Importance of Dental Health for Overall Health

Dental health comprises all aspects of oral health and functioning of the mouth particularly the teeth, gums and tongue. Maintaining proper dental health is the key to achieving a hygienic and healthy living; a fact that not many people are aware of. Simple activities like flossing and brushing your teeth on a regular basis are considered time-consuming and even neglected by many people owing to their busy schedule. Here a few highlights why dental health matters to every person.

Overall Health

The importance of dental health to the overall health and wellbeing cannot be overemphasized. A healthy mouth enables you to chew and swallow food and thus obtain the necessary nutrients for optimum health. Despite the negative effect on nutritional condition, poor dental health can harmfully affect speech as well as self-esteem. Lack of good oral hygiene also affects an individual’s physical appearance and breath because of decaying teeth, caries, stains, etc.

The biggest cause of tooth decay is the eating of foodstuffs that contain carbohydrates such as breads, breakfast cereals, chocolate, milk products and desserts like cakes or puddings. Brushing your teeth regularly can help control tooth decay and related infections. Essentially, you are what you consume in terms of general bodily health and this is applicable to your teeth as much as any other part of your body.

Prevent Certain Health Conditions

Not only can dental health can have a direct effect on overall health, but can also contribute to some health diseases and issues. Common health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, endocarditis and diabetes may become evident due to poor dental health. Proper dental care on the other hand, can lessen strain on the immune system and reduce the presence of bacteria, which can be detrimental to your health.

There is usually a connection between gum disease and diabetes. Severe gum disease may essentially contribute to diabetes since it affects the control of blood glucose. In a normal individual, bacteria can be easily removed by the body, while in diabetics it is more difficult for the body to do so. Additionally, a person with diabetes is often unable to heal from infections and wounds that can cause serious mouth infections.

Dental Health for a Healthier Heart

Studies have related dental inflammatory disease to high risk of heart disease. People with gum disease are at bigger risk of heart disease and have double the risk of experiencing a deadly heart attack than individuals without gum disease. Those that suffer from periodontal disease and other health conditions more than ever need to maintain proper dental hygiene. Doing so will ultimately minimize the risk of getting other serious diseases.

Dental diseases impose both social and financial burdens while treatment is expensive and both children and adults may become unproductive due to dental pain. Regular dental visits facilitate early identification of these dental infections and conditions. This helps in early treatment of such issues before they build up into serious problems.

Dental health is certainly necessary in order to maintain general health. There are a number of practices that can be done to sustain proper dental health. Besides brushing and flossing regularly and eating proper diet, visiting a dental office on a regular basis can help prevent most dental problems.

Australian Health Care Benefits

Moving to Australia is an exciting prospect. However inevitably the question of health care is raised. No one wants to become ill or injured while living in Australia and then be left with an enormous bill to pay.

Does Australia have free health care?

Medicare is Australia’s publicly funded health care system however it does not provide 100% coverage. Medicare provides eligible individuals access to free or subsidised medical, optometrical (eye care) and public hospital care. Medicare does not pay towards ambulance costs, physiotherapy, spectacles, podiatry, chiropractic services, or private hospital accommodation.

Medicare also does not cover dental costs, with some exceptions for low-income earners. A nationwide Denticare Australia program may be extended in the next government budget, however the specific details are yet to be announced. Some dental organisations provide interest free payment plans, member discounted services that attract an annual fee, or discounts for regular patients to help manage costs.

Individuals can also choose to access private health services that charge for their services, and may choose to take out private health insurance to cover these types of costs.

Will I be eligible for a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement?

The Australian Government also has Reciprocal Health Care Agreements with some countries that provide ‘restricted access’ to public health care while in Australia. Restricted access usually limits care to ‘medically necessary’ treatments eg. Ill health or injury which occurs while you are in Australia and which requires treatment through a public hospital before you return home.

Individuals from New Zealand and Ireland do not get issued with a Medicare card and instead present their passport at public hospitals or pharmacies. Non-hospital care, such as attending a local GP doctor, is not covered. Other reciprocal agreements will pay Medicare benefits for out-of-pocket medical treatment provided by doctors through private surgeries and community health centres. All agreements cover subsidised medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Note: Reciprocal agreements technically only cover individuals if they have come directly from the reciprocal country eg. If you were previously living in another foreign country prior to coming to Australia you may not be eligible, as you have not been recently been part of the health system for your country of nationality. However application of this requirement varies between Medicare staff.

Medicare Information Kits for migrants are available in 19 different languages.

What amount is subsidised by the government?

The benefit (or refund) that you receive back from Medicare is based on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) for that specific service which is set by the government. Doctors and other health service professionals can choose to charge over the schedule fee or bulk bill. Bulk billing is when doctors bill Medicare directly, accepting the Medicare benefits as full payment for the service. If doctors charge a higher amount the patient wears the extra costs.

Many doctors now offer to process Medicare claims electronically at the end of the appointment. Alternatively you can lodge most claims online, visit a Medicare office or post in your claims. Refer also to How does Medicare work?

Patients may also be required to pay for additional tests or vaccinations that their doctor requests as part of their treatment.

Some benefit examples based on the current schedule (1 Nov 2011) are below:

Standard doctor Level B consultation for less than 20 minutes with a GP (General Practitioner) in their consulting rooms: Fee = $35.60 and Benefit = 100% so you receive a $35.60 rebate. Therefore if the doctor charges $65.00 for an appointment you will be out of pocket by $29.40. If the doctor bulk bills they would charge the $35.60 fee direct to Medicare resulting in no out of pocket costs for the bulk billed patient.

Specialist doctor consultation initial appointment in a hospital or their consulting rooms: Fee = $83.95 and Benefit = 75% (hospital in-patient) or 85% (out-of-hospital) so you would receive either a $63.00 or $71.40 rebate. Therefore if the doctor charges $130.00 for an appointment you will be out of pocket by $67.00 or $58.60. You will need a referral letter from a GP to see a specialist so will need to budget for both out of pocket costs. Specialist fees can also vary considerably with some charging several hundreds of dollars if they are highly specialised and sought after. It is worth checking fees prior to making appointments so you are prepared for any out of pocket costs.

Comprehensive dental oral examination, limited to 1 per provider every 2 years: Note: Any preventive services like removal of plaque and/or stains, or any fillings etc are billed separately and can quickly add up to a sizeable bill even with the rebates: Benefit = $40.50 so if the dentist charges $95 for this item you will be out of pocket by $54.50

Medicare concession card holders will usually be charged a lesser rate or receive some services for free.

Note: If you are not eligible for Medicare you will have to pay the full appointment fees. However you are also exempt from paying the Medicare Levy and any surcharges (see below for more information on these).

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) details the medicines subsidised by the government, which must be purchased through a pharmacy. Non-PBS medications will be charged at full price.

The government also protects high users of medical services from big out-of-pocket costs through the Medicare Safety Net, and provides pension and health care concessions for pensioners and low income earners. The PBS Safety Net is available for individuals who need a lot of medicines in any year.

Individuals may also be able to claim a tax offset of 20% for net medical expenses over the threshold, currently $1,500 for the tax year for eligible expenses.

Note: The above protections may only apply to individuals on full Medicare so check further with Medicare before applying.

Are there any costs when I use an ambulance?

Ambulance cover varies between the different Australian States & Territories.

In Queensland and Tasmania, ambulance services are provided free for local residents.

In all other States & Territories, fees may be charged. The fees can vary depending on: how far individuals travel by ambulance, the type of transport eg. helicopter, the nature of the illness, whether an emergency or not, and any concession eligibilities.

Residents living outside Queensland or Tasmania can insure against ambulance costs, either through membership schemes provided by the relevant ambulance service (in the Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria and country areas of Western Australia) or through a private health insurance fund (in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and metropolitan Western Australia).

Note: Check the details of any ambulance cover provided by private health insurers carefully as it may only be limited to ’emergency’ transportation eg. not covering trips between hospitals or non-critical call outs. Membership with ambulance services may be more comprehensive.

In most cases, local holiday or business visitors to other States & Territories will be covered if they were covered in their home State or Territory due to reciprocal arrangements. However it is worth checking this before travelling to other States or Territories.

Do I have to pay anything towards Medicare?

Medicare is funded by a Medicare Levy tax deduction taken from your income with the contribution level based on how much you earn. The Medicare Levy is currently 1.5% of taxable income.

In addition, the Medicare Levy Surcharge of 1% is levied on high-income earners who do not have private hospital cover. The income threshold for 2011-12 year is $80,000 for singles and 160,000 for couples / families increasing by $1,500 for second and subsequent dependents. The surcharge is designed to encourage individuals to take out private cover and therefore reduce the demand on the public Medicare system.

If you are not eligible for Medicare then you may qualify for a Medicare Levy exemption and will not have to pay the Medicare Levy or Medicare Levy Surcharge. You must however complete a Medicare Levy Exemption Form in order to be exempt from the tax.

What are the differences between Medicare and Private Health Insurance Cover?

The Health Insurance Ombudsman has a good comparison of Medicare and Private Health Insurance.

Do I have to take out private health insurance?

You do not have to have private health insurance unless it is a requirement of your Australian visa to make arrangements for a minimum level of health insurance. A sponsor could still offer to pay the insurance, however if not the visa holder is responsible. Student visa holders are required to have Overseas Student Health Cover, although students from Sweden or Norway may have special arrangements.

However you may still want to consider taking out private health insurance to give you more health care options, to cover items which aren’t covered on Medicare such as dental costs, or if you are not eligible for full Medicare.

There are two types of private health insurance: 1) Hospital policies and 2) Ancillary or extras cover for treatments such as dental and physiotherapy. Most health funds offer combined policies.

Insurance policies may also have exclusions and restrictions, excess payments and waiting periods for certain claims. Insurance claims may also be subject to annual limits for certain types of claims. Insurers often have preferred suppliers who may offer higher benefits for members.

How much does it cost to have private health insurance?

The costs of insurance vary considerably depending on what health cover plan and insurer you choose. You should only choose a registered Australian insurer and one way of choosing is to use the many free comparison sites available. The Private Health Insurance Ombudsman website also has excellent information.

If you are currently with a recognised international health fund you may be able to obtain an insurance clearance certificate and transfer without incurring waiting periods for some claims. Continual coverage will depend on the old and new policies being similar. Many Australian insurers refer to the International Federation of Health Plans to determine whether a fund is recognised under their transfer policies.

Health insurance rates can increase on 1 April each year in line with government regulation and in 2012 this resulted in average increases of 5.06% for new and existing premiums.

In addition to the Medicare Levy Surcharge, the government also has two other key private health insurance incentives.

Private Health Insurance Rebate – 30% to $40% rebate (not applicable for overseas visitors health cover)

Lifetime Health Cover – Additional loadings that increase the later you take out health insurance during your lifetime with a maximum loading of 70%.

1 July 2012 Changes

From 1 July 2012, the Rebate and the Medicare Levy Surcharge will be means tested. This could result in substantial benefit reductions for high-income earners, particularly singles earning $130,001 or more, and couples/families earning $260,001 as their rebate will drop to zero.

You can read more about these changes at privatehealth.gov.au.

Moving to Australia raises many questions. In addition to health queries there are educational, employment and accommodation issues to consider to name a few. It is important to get reputable information the first time. You also need to know when to complete the hundreds of tasks involved when moving to Australia.