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Healthcare cost battle: Switching sticks for carrots

POSTED April 16, 2013 10:06 p.m.

Get ready for the real healthcare crisis.
A growing number of firms are being nailed with rising health insurance expenses. The consulting firm of Towers Watson projects corporate spending on health care will average $12,136 per employee this year.
Firms that for years have tried soft sell approaches to get their workers to take personal responsibility for their health through offers of reduced gym memberships and such are now getting employees’ attention with money.
They are taking advantage of federal law that allows them to use heath-related rewards or penalties up to 20 percent of the cost of the employee’s health coverage. That means $2,427 could ultimately come out of an employee’s pocket to pay for health insurance costs borne exclusively by an employer.
Michelin North America employees starting in 2014 will have to pay $1,000 more toward their health insurance deductible if they are male and their waistline is 40 inches or more. If workers are female and their waistline is 35 inches plus they also could be out an additional $1,000 a year.
Mohawk Industries – a flooring firm based in Georgia – has gone to a monthly penalty for those who do not participate in their insurance providers’ request for a basic biometric screening consisting of height, weight, blood pressure, body mass index, blood glucose and a lipid panel. Failure to participate in the screening results in a $100 monthly penalty. Some insurers aren’t as nice. Either employees have to take the simple biometric screening or else their health coverage is dropped.
None of this is exactly popular. But the penalty approach versus rewards is providing significantly improved results of getting those covered with insurance to actively participate in their health. The participation rate at Mohawk went from single digits to 97 percent almost overnight.
The screening process pays dividends for insurance firms and companies even if it costs $80 to $100 per worker. That’s because the annual screening is catches health problems that cost a heck of a lot less to treat sooner than later.
Some firms have even gone as far as to refuse to hire smokers.
All of this is causing grumbling among workers. The non-profit National Workrights Institute contends the wellness penalties are essentially pay cuts.
But the simple truth is healthcare costs can’t be brought under control if individuals don’t take an active role in their own health.
Healthcare costs are now 17.4 percent of our gross domestic product, the highest in the world. We are on pace to reach the 20 percent mark for healthcare expenditures by 2021 – or 20 cents of every dollar worth of goods produced in the United State annually. That government estimate takes into account full implementation of the Affordable Healthcare Act.
The penalty approach by private firms is an attempt to bring costs under control. And the only effective way to do that is for people to make their health more important than watching YouTube videos or parking themselves in front of a TV.
This is not a matter of becoming a gym rat. The simple act of sustained walking alone is an elixir. It works wonders. There’s one woman In Manteca who takes to the streets daily. She has shed more than 80 pounds and has reversed a whole list of health concerns for the better. All it took was walking briskly for 30 to 45 minutes a day.
No one likes having anyone tell them what to do.
But on the flipside, why should everyone else have to pay for your decision to ignore your most valuable asset — your health?  Ignoring your heath translates into higher premiums for others covered by insurance and higher taxes for everyone supporting government healthcare for those without insurance.
Preventive steps can be taken to reverse or prevent a long list of costly ailments. Yet we often refuse to do anything that would improve our health and reduce costs including simple doctors’ visits for basic screenings.
Businesses – out of self-defense and a desire to survive financially – are replacing the carrot with the stick.
That will have the impact of boiling down the healthcare crisis to its lowest common dominator – the lack of personal responsibility.  The lack of individuals stepping up is what created the healthcare crisis and is sending costs skyrocketing.
As Pogo was credited with saying in a 1971 comic strip regarding pollution, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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