Sleep apnea survey: 53 percent of drivers pay out of pocket

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 5/27/2016

A survey released by the American Transportation Research Institute says more than half of truck drivers who have been referred to a sleep study have incurred some or all of the test costs.

The survey, which was released Thursday, May 26, includes data from more than 800 commercial drivers to help quantify the costs and impact on truck drivers as they address diagnosis and a potential treatment regimen for obstructive sleep apnea.

On March 10, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Federal Railroad Administration published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking about a possible regulation regarding sleep apnea. Specifically, the agencies requested comment on the costs and benefits of requiring motor carrier and rail transportation workers who exhibit multiple risk factors for sleep apnea to undergo evaluation and treatment by a healthcare professional with expertise in sleep disorders. The agencies have held three public listening sessions on the issue. The comment period is scheduled to end June 8.

The survey results suggest the cost can be significant. According to the survey, 53 percent of drivers who have been referred to a sleep study paid for some or all of the test costs with the average out-of-pocket expense being $1,220. Considering that median driver pay was $805 per week, the cost represents 1.5 weeks’ pay.

“ATRI’s research clearly shows what my fellow drivers and I have been experiencing,” said Barbara Beal, a member of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “The costs associated with sleep apnea screening and treatment are not inconsequential for drivers, and the flexibility to utilize lower cost options for both screening and treatment will be critical if FMCSA moves forward with a formal rulemaking.”

The results also indicate that a CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, machine may not be a one-size-fits-all solution for sleep apnea. For drivers diagnosed with severe obstructive sleep apnea, 84 percent reported having increased amounts of sleep when using a CPAP. Only 32 percent of drivers with mild sleep apnea reported improved sleep with a CPAP. However, 91 percent of drivers with mild sleep apnea were prescribed a CPAP for treatment.

Andrew King, a research analyst for OOIDA, said the survey had its limitations since it was a self-selective study.

However, King said the report also includes some useful information concerning out-of-pocket costs and treatment.

“Some of the results from the report mirror the Foundation’s own surveys, which show that many owner-operators and drivers do not have a health care policy that covers the associated costs of sleep apnea. In particular, ATRI’s study demonstrated that those without health insurance were likely to pay more than $2,000 for a sleep study.”

The survey also reported that many medical examiners were using body mass index and neck size to determine whether a person should be referred for a sleep study. More than 60 percent of drivers said they believe that the medical guidelines are too broad and that the examiners don’t follow the guidelines when deciding who must have a sleep test.

“Of the drivers diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and prescribed a CPAP machine, 27 percent reported that their employer monitored their treatment compliance,” King said. “This raises some serious concerns with HIPAA regulations.”

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