If you had to decide between paying more for your health insurance or pay less but had to engage in a required exercise program what would you do?
In a joint study with the University of Michigan Health System and Stanford University, one health insurer posed the challenge – requiring overweight individuals to either pay 20 percent more for their coverage or do something about their weight. For some families the increase would have been more than $2,000 a year.
Researchers evaluated a group of people insured by Blue Care Network taking part in the Healthy Blue Living program, a requirement to receive out-of-pocket cost discounts.
Enrollees were given several programs to choose from, including Weight Watchers and WalkingSpree, which uses a digital pedometer to upload walking data on a wellness tracking web site. Nearly half of the 12,102 enrollees picked the pedometer-based WalkingSpree.
For one year, the group stuck to an Internet-tracked walking program. The majority of the 6,548 enrollees, 97 percent, met or exceeded assigned fitness goals – an average of 5,000 steps per day for three months – in order to avoid the exorbitant health insurance increase.
After, the partakers submitted a survey regarding the experience. Resistant participants, made up by nearly a third, disagreed with the imposed financial incentive, finding the program negatively coercive.
Senior author Dr. Caroline R. Richardson – an assistant professor in the U-M Department of Family Medicine – addressed the ethics, saying, “There are ethical debates around the idea of forcing someone to be personally responsible for health care costs related to not exercising, but we expect to see more of these approaches to financially motivate healthier behaviors.”
The findings were published in Translational Behavioral Medicine.
Walking enthusiasts recommend investing in a pedometer to accurately track your daily trek. Choose a goal and aim for it. At or below 5,000 steps is considered sedentary, while 10,000 is considered active. Begin with a number that is comfortable to you and increase walking increments by 1,000 or 2,000 additional steps thereafter until you achieve your goal. Plan for daily walks with friends – as company and positive motivation can make the time seem to go by faster.
Do you think people who are overweight or smoke should pay more for health insurance?
[Image via Shutterstock]