Thursday, July 12, 2007

United Health Launches a New Health Plan That Rewards Healthy Workers--Immediately Criticized for "Turning Health Care Into a Police State."

Under a new program announced by United Health, health plan participants who take tests and other evaluations to prove they are meeting goals for blood pressure, cholesterol, height/weight ratio, and smoking status would be eligible to receive $500 reductions in their health plan deductible ($1,000 family) for every goal met.

The plan starts out with a $2,000 single/$5,000 family deductible.

In a USA Today article, a "consumer advocate" was quoted as saying, "This is turning health care into a police state."

Over the years, the health insurance industry has been criticized for rating-up, or refusing to cover altogether, those that have preexisting health conditions. I have generally concurred with that criticism especially when consumers were willing to buy insurance when it was first offered to them.

So, I'd like to take this discussion past the usual concern most of us have about a health care system that could discriminate against people over things they don't have any control over.

Ken Thorpe of Emory University is a health care economist I have come to greatly respect over the years. This from an overview of his 2005 study on the impact obesity has on America's health care costs:

"The obesity epidemic has caused a tenfold increase in the nation's private health insurance bill for conditions related to being overweight, according to a self-funded study by researchers with the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health published today in the online version of the journal Health Affairs. According to the study the cost of treating conditions linked to obesity increased from $3.6 billion to $36.5 billion between 1987 and 2002. The study concludes that the best way to lower healthcare spending is to target the rise in population risk factors -- especially obesity."

"Current approaches to controlling healthcare costs are not working because they ignore the true drivers of those costs,' Dr. Thorpe says. 'Increases in the number of people getting treatment for serious health problems like diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and mental disorders are directly linked to population increases in obesity. If insurers and employers are serious about reigning in health care spending, then obesity prevention should be at the top of their agenda."

Let's read that last statement again: "If insurers and employers are serious about reigning in health care spending, then obesity prevention should be at the top of their agenda."

We have made great strides in reducing the impact of tobacco use because as a society we have pretty much come to the conclusion that smoking is a dumb thing to do.

But obesity is killing more of us, and doing more to undermine our quality of life, than is tobacco.

We have got to deal with the obesity epidemic in the United States and we won't do that until we are willing to start talking about this and acting on it.

I really applaud United Health for taking a first step.

They deserve our all taking a deep breath and giving this some serious consideration.
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