Monday, July 20, 2009

Should We Pay Individuals for Good Health Habits, You Bet!

We have all heard about pay for performance for physicians. Now there are proposals that would, in effect, pay individuals for good performance for controlling their bad health habits by quitting smoking, changing their eating habits and losing weight.

In my book, Digital Communication in Medical Practice published by Springer for a physician audience, I propose that individuals should be compensated for recognizing the importance of good health habits and following through on programs that encourage them to make changes in the way they live.

A provision in the healthcare overhaul bill that is before the U.S. Senate right now proposes to reduce health insurance premiums by as much as half for those members who change their habits through exercise, weight loss and no smoking. This proposal has the potential to save employers thousands of dollars per year with a healthier workforce that has fewer lost days of work, more energy to perform at peak and less chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

In a recent Boston Globe article, writer Michael Kranish reported that some companies such as Safeway and EMC Corporation have already adopted such programs and provide positive feedback on their success. EMC offers its employees a 12 percent reduction in their insurance payments – approximately $300 savings annually on a family plan – for employees who take a health risk assessment and engage in sessions with a “life style coach” that the company offers. According to Delia Vetter who is in charge of the EMC project, about 90 percent of the company’s US workers participate in this program.

The Safeway grocery chain also provides reduced health insurance to its nonunion employees who demonstrate that they can meet certain health measures or take definitive steps to make themselves healthier, including quitting smoking and weight loss. About 74 percent of their workers participate and their savings can be as much as $1,560 per year for workers who have a family plan.

Politics as usual is rearing its ugly head in these discussions as some Congressmen and Senators try to ban provisions in legislation that would pay individuals to get healthier. We can only hope that enough members of Congress have the foresight to take the long view and understand that giving employers a model that encourages employees to work at becoming healthier will lower healthcare costs and elevate the quality of health for all of this nation’s citizens.

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