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Personal Responsibility

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A trend is finally catching on that holds employees personally responsible for their health care premiums. Basically, the healthier you are, the less you’ll pay. Car insurance has worked this way for decades. Get a speeding ticket and points are added to your record, and insurance carriers can justify a premium increase. An increase that’s not absorbed by everyone else who drives.

There’s always been a lingering question about health care. Why should a healthy person pay more to subsidize someone who smokes, who’s obese or who’s an alcoholic? Is health care really an equal, universal right? Does anyone need to bear personal accountability for anything anymore? The fundamental problem is that the bad habits of one group creates significant financial consequences for others.

The National Coalition on Health Care states that health care spending will climb to over $2 trillion this year. That’s more than the gross domestic product of many countries (for example, almost 8 times that of Switzerland). Over 60% of Americans are overweight or obese, and fast food restaurants dwell at every corner. LA Councilwoman Jan Perry is even trying to stop new fast food restaurants from opening in South LA for two years to address related health problems. The reality of American life is that fatty foods are cheap, easy and convenient and exercise can be hard to come by between our longer work schedules and increasingly busier personal lives. Is that the reality or just an excuse?

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With anything controversial, and believe me, this reeks of controversy, lawsuits won't be far behind. However, they might not be as easy to file as you think. The National Workrights Institute feels that employers are taking an unfair approach to "eliminate" expensive employees. But this is a capitalistic society, after all. Why should an employer suffer exorbitant costs as a result of their employees' unhealthy lifestyles? Our trusty federal government passed regulations in July to address employers' legal concerns, detailing how these "wellness programs" differentiate themselves from illegal discrimination based on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. One stipulation is that penalties and rewards cannot exceed 20% of an employee's health care cost. Another takes into account pre-existing health factors that sometimes lead to obesity or high blood pressure, etc. ("no fault of their own" factors).

The one thing a lot people overlook about this is the bottom line, but not for financial departments. I'm talking about a person's bottom line...The state of their health. Whether you think it's a good idea or unfair or bordering on tyranny, the ultimate drive is to make people healthier. Employers would much rather have healthy workers than unhealthy workers paying surcharges. And when you're healthier, you feel better, you live longer, you're more productive and you won't require multiple bypasses. Isn't that a good thing?

photo by una cierta mirada via Flickr