Increased health insurance discounts proposed for weight loss

Armen Hareyan's picture
Health insurance and obesity
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The annual healthcare cost of obesity in the United States has doubled in less than a decade and may be as high as $147 billion a year according to new government-sponsored research. As a result, a focus of health care reform proposals being put forth would provide increased health insurance discounts for employees who lose weight or lower their cholesterol.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. went up 37 percent between 1998 and 2006. The rise in obesity prevalence added $40 billion to the annual health care bill. As a result, costs for both individual and employer-sponsored health insurance continue to rise.

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The new health insurance proposal would build upon current law which permits employers and insurers to give discounts of up to 20 percent on premiums, co-payments or deductibles to workers who take part in wellness programs which include anti-smoking and weight-loss programs. The health overhaul bill passed by the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee "would allow employers to increase these discounts to 30 percent and up to 50 percent if the secretaries of Labor, Health and Human Services and Treasury agree."

The cost of care for obese individuals impacts Medicare both in terms of need for medical care as well as the prescription drug benefit. Medicare prescription drug payments for obese recipients are about $600 a year more than for normal weight recipients. Obesity accounts for 8.5 percent of Medicare expenditures and 12.9 percent of private health insurance expenditures.

Obesity is a major concern among aging Americans and is a leading cause for increased need for long-term care services. The potential future claims cost to health insurance companies and long-term care insurance companies as well as tax payers is growing exponentially and must be addressed by both legislative initiatives as well as personal responsibility.

Written by Jesse Slome from the American Association for Long Term Care Insurance

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