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Thin Waist, Fat Wallet?

I’m curious what you think about carots and sticks as they relate to employers strategies to encourage healthy living – in order to get a break from exploding health care costs and to increase productivity, morale, and well-being.   After reading the article below, please let us know your thoughts at the comments link at the bottom.  Do you love carrots or sticks, or a combination? 

By Lindsay Garrison
eDiets Contributor

Is your health affecting your bottom line? When was the last time the cost of your health insurance premium crossed your mind while on the scale? If the answer is “never,” you may be happy to learn that the benefits of a healthy lifestyle can extend beyond the scale into your wallet.

It’s no secret that healthcare costs are rising, especially in the United States where approximately two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese. Both employers and employees are suffering from “high premium-itis” and there appears to be no cure in sight. However, many employers and insurance companies are taking steps to get healthcare costs under control.

So what exactly is being done to address the issue? Well, several approaches seem to be rolling out to combat these super-sized healthcare costs. Some are more obvious than others and some penalize unhealthy habits while others take a more affirming approach. What does not change, however, is the need to provide some form of motivation for employees to take ownership of their health. And, as the old saying goes, money talks.

One approach that will be used by a mid-western employer in the coming years will deduct penalty fees from the paychecks of employees who don’t meet prescribed health criteria. Weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking guidelines have been set forth and the company will charge employees $30 every two weeks if they don’t meet the criteria. Easy math tells you that’s a “health tax” of $720 a year!

On the insurance side, some healthcare companies are now offering health plans with deductibles that can be dramatically reduced by meeting and maintaining specific health criteria. In addition, some insurance companies are now offering programs that promote and reward preventive measures and healthy lifestyles.

For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware offers a program called “Healthy Dividends,” which provides reimbursement for weight loss, smoking cessation and fitness efforts. (www.bcbsde.com). It’s understandable that programs like this are popping up when you consider that a considerable portion of medical benefits go to preventable conditions.

Another much less documented and more controversial approach has been to alter the pay scale based on weight. According to a Stanford University study of obese workers with health coverage, “those surveyed were paid an average of $1.20 less per hour than non obese workers, perhaps because employers intentionally adjust their wages to account for health costs.”

Now take that obesity factor and add a side of gender. Another study has suggested that highly-educated, obese women earn about 30 percent less than women of average size. The study concluded that the pressure to be thin may be felt the most by women of higher socio-economic classes. Now that’s heavy.

So, here’s a call to action! Check out your health insurance policy to see if you there are any programs offered by your employer which reward healthy living. You may find that the cost of your gym membership could be supplemented or that your healthcare premiums could be reduced. Isn’t it worth a few minutes to see if your healthy habits can put a few bucks back in your wallet?

Lindsay Garrison is posing as a freelance writer while pursuing her MBA at the University of Delaware.

See the comment link below?  Click that and tell us what you think.

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