Thursday, November 17, 2011

If you are overweight, obese, a smoker, then you pay more in Health insurance premiums


An article, released today by the New York Times, shows that workers considered to be overweight, obese, a smoker then you pay more in Health insurance premiums. There is an increased demand by employers for their employees to pay more for in health insurance premiums if they are smokers or are obese. The same goes for those who have high cholesterol. Other employers are offering financial incentives to their employees by encouraging them to enroll in wellness programs. Companies including, Home Depot, PepsiCo, Safeway, Lowe's, and General Mills defend their decision on high premiums for “less healthy” employees by stating that this approach will get workers to take more responsibility for their health & well-being.

Currently, Wal-Mart stores (the nation's largest employer) sought higher payments for their smokers- an amount, reaching $2,000 more than for non-smokers. The only way that their employees can avoid this surcharge if this receive documentation from their doctors stating that it would be medically inadvisable or impossible to quit smoking.
www.nytimes.com:erome Allen, who works for Wal-Mart, gave up smoking when he learned he paid $40 more a month for health insurance, in Fort Worth, Texas, Wednesday.
What do I think about this?
As much as I am a huge supporter for wellness programs, I am NOT a supporter for discriminating,because this is exactly what companies are doing when they seek to have 'unhealthy' workers pay more in health insurance premiums. Companies who choose to go on the route of higher premiums for the 'unhealthy' and discounts for 'healthy' are making the assumption that health status is a lifestyle choice and that all health status is as a result of personal behavior. Is that true?

I think not! I do agree that personal behavior is included in the equation on health status, but there is so much more to our health status as a people. Research has shown that the conditions in which we live, work, and play tend to induce unhealthy behaviors such as:
  • being exposed to high levels of stress each day, which can cause reliance on unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and alcohol as a means to reduce stress
  • easy and quick access to fast food and limited access to fresh foods
  • limited to no recreational facilities in neighborhoods/communities
  • higher prices for healthy food, especially fruits and vegetables, particularly when compared to fast food and junk food.
Our health status is not a result of merely personal behaviors. Our employment conditions, the neighborhoods in which we live, our race, stress, and our health care are all part of the equation. So, discriminating against those considered 'unhealthy' by punishing them to pay more money for health insurance is simply unfair. The only good thing that may result out of this whole thing is providing an incentive to those whose actions are only a result of personal behavior and encouraging those already considered healthy to keep engaging in health promoting ways.

What do you think? Is it fair or unfair to change higher health insurance premiums for those considered unhealthy?

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