Friday, August 19, 2005

Healthy AND Wealthy...

Back in May, we discussed how some physician’s may be eligible for cash bonuses for keeping their patients well. Now there may be an opportunity for us patients to get in on the action, too.
In an effort to differentiate themselves from their competitors, carriers are always on the lookout for ways to offer “value-added” benefits. In recent years, more and more insurers have begun to offer all kinds on non-insurance products as adjuncts to their plans. For example, several carriers now offer membership discounts to health clubs, stop-smoking clinics, even massage therapy.
Why the (not so) sudden largesse?
One reason is undoubtedly marketing, but there are other factors, as well. It’s been shown that healthy employees are generally productive employees. And particularly in small businesses, the impact of even just one or two chronically ill employees can have a drastic effect on overall efficiency. And, of course, the proportionate cost of health insurance is magnified in such cases.
According to a recent article, “(e)mployees are embracing the idea, using healthy living habits to save themselves money. Those who don't participate aren't penalized.” In other words, the “carrot but no stick” approach. There are numerous ways to accomplish this, but a typical model allows participating employees to earn “credits” for participating in, for example, stop-smoking clinics, or monitored weight-loss programs, or even stress and anger management courses. Credits can be used to “buy down” the employees’ share of the health insurance premium, or even as a cash or vacation day bonus.
On a more modest level, many carriers employ an “affinity” model; that is, they’ll partner with local (or national) health clubs, diet workshops, and sporting goods stores to offer their insureds discounts on products and services. This is not unlike the plans that offer dental or vision services discounts. The point here, though, is to both encourage and empower the employee to take better care of himself, thus lowering the group’s claims experience, and premiums.
Some employers and their insurers “kick it up a notch” by adding disease management options for folks with chronic conditions, such as diabetes or pulmonary disease. Such employees have access to dedicated nurses, social workers, even dieticians.
The crux of the matter may be as simple as lifestyle choices. Obesity, tobacco use, alcohol and drug abuse, blogging are all behaviors that affect one’s health, and insurance premiums. Can something as simple as modifying such behaviors make a difference in the bottom line? According to UHC’s Dr Sandy Lewis, “(m)any studies over the years that have shown a strong correlation between a person's lifestyle and their health."
Food for thought.
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