Privacy is true price of healthy worker discounts

The latest fad in American health care is to give discounts to workers who are healthy. Many corporate CEOs and their benefits department managers are showing enthusiasm for the idea that workers who don’t take care of themselves ought to pay more for health insurance.

Like a lot of temptations, this one is attractive. Why should you pay the same rate for insurance as that bloated, pasty oaf of a co-worker down the hall?

But cupcakes, beer and cheeseburgers are not the only temptations you should try to resist. Paying less for being healthy is an enticement you ought to oppose as well.

The plan just announced by the giant HMO UnitedHealthcare is a good example of why some bosses are licking their chops at the fad. Workers can lower their annual deductible (the amount you pay each year for health care or drugs before insurance kicks in) if they take company-administered tests every year to check blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and weight and to see if they smoke. For each health goal employees meet, $500 is knocked off their deductible.

This bright idea comes all dressed up in the attractive language of personal responsibility. Who could possibly be against that? If your boss wants to pay you to stop unhealthy behavior, how could that be bad? You win, the boss wins, the insurance company wins. So what’s the problem?

{The idea that your boss or insurance company wants you healthy just because they care is, upon serious reflection, dumb. What your boss cares about is that you get to work, work hard, stay late and don’t jack up the price of the health plan. And the insurers may just be looking for a way to shift exploding health care costs.

If you ski, fly a private airplane, drive go-karts, ride a motorcycle without a helmet, engage in risky sexual behavior, forgo a flu shot, sunbathe, eat rare meat, kayak, scuba dive or own a gun, you are defying medical wisdom and choosing to engage in unhealthy behavior. ~ Arthur Caplan, as quoted in the article}

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