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May 24, 2005

Health Care Schwag

Matt's got a nice post on how health insurers screw the young and why that makes mandated private insurance (a la The New America Foundation, The Century Foundation, and John Breaux) something of a mess. Fun stuff. But hey, here's a sidebar: While explaining his grand plan to attract young, healthy folk and weed out the ill and elderly, Matt mentions the utility of health schwag: free gym memberships, softball teams, that sorta thing. Those, actually, are great ideas. Not just for cherry-picked plans trying to attract young people, but for everyone. If health insurance came with a free fitness center membership and offered incentives for gym attendance, it'd be one of the most cost-effective ways of controlling insurer-side health spending on record.

First, nothing works as well as exercise and weight control to keep folks healthy and avoid disease. Nothing. Similarly, nothing is cheaper. The problem is exercise and diet require commitment, time, unpleasant hours on the treadmill, and a host of other intangibles that people don't often like to give. If health insurers were smart, they'd offer significant discounts to customers who swiped in at the gym more than three times a week. It's a pretty safe bet these folks will be healthier than the rest of the population, and by offering, say, 15% off premiums during each week the 3+ visits are made, insurers would probably motivate many more of their plan users to attend. This, of course, would protect them from a variety of absurdly expensive diseases, and thus keep the insurance company from having to pay for their care. This is already being done by many corporations in order to control their premiums, and sooner or later, health insurers are going to have to follow suit.

May 24, 2005 in Health Care | Permalink

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Comments

Okay- this is the core of an absolutely great idea.

Posted by: TJ | May 24, 2005 2:52:39 PM

giggity giggity giggity.

I'm gonna save a lot of money on my health insurance. I do these things like a fiend already. Just don't tell them about the beer.

Posted by: slapshot57 | May 24, 2005 3:04:14 PM

hell yeah. It better cover my kung fu membership, and it would be hella-sweet if it would cover massage therapy as well. Nothing treats the common ills of chronic back pain like a good masseuse does.

Posted by: verplanck colvin | May 24, 2005 4:16:58 PM

Sounds great on the surface, but there are a couple of potential flaws in the idea:

1. Attending a "health-club" does not guarantee a healthier individual. Often individuals that exercise inappropriately are more prone to expensive musculoskeletal injuries. Individual that do not dose their exercise/activity may be wasting time. Overall, may be a wash with the savings in cardiac related care.

2. What is a "quality" doctor? In health care, quality is difficult to define. If you ask 100 physicians if they provide quality care, they all say "yes" even though they may use varying carepaths and have varying practice paradigms.

3. Sponsor sport events/teams. Sounds good, but I can't tell you how many individuals are injured playing on their local softball, basketball or bowling teams for that matter.

Overall, I think the idea of Americans being healthier through the use of movement and exercise makes sense. How to get Americans (or humans period) to get up and actually move is the real question. Historically, informational campaigns (run in popular media) have been somewhat effective (i.e. anti-tobacco public education in the mid and late 80's). The problem is when the info ads/campaigns stop societal habits go back to conservaation of energy and the quest for copious amounts of cheap calorically dense food.

We humans are not that complex, we just are easily persuaded to do foolish things when given the opportunity.

Posted by: gunner2112 | May 24, 2005 4:33:10 PM

gunner,

1) that's why employee's would be given comps to get them started with a personal trainer. Most gyms I've joined give me 1-3 free sessions anyways. So the company works out a deal where the gym offers free/discounted personal training sessions so the employee can get a good, safe routine down. Alternatively, the company could include needing a certain amount of points per year to acheive a certain health insurance rate, where points are derived from classes on safe workouts, healthy nutrition, etc.

2) In almost all cases, I would think seeing a decent doctor trumps seeing no doctor

3) I doubt the ER's are full of healthy people injured by playing softball or bowling

Posted by: slapshot57 | May 24, 2005 4:45:26 PM

My health care plan (Oxford) offers a partial reimbursment on fitness club memberships (somewhere betwee $100 to $200 a year -- I can't remember which) based on how often you go (I think it works out to an average of 2.5 times a week). My employer covers the rest, working on the very simple principle that healthier employees work more.

Merrill Lynch, who I used to work for, has gyms of their own in some offices, which are available to employees at a relatively low rate. In addition, every large office has a health clinic that all employees may use free of charge. Again, they realized long ago that the cost of keeping your employees healthy is significantly lower than the cost of dealing with sick ones. As Ezra says, premiums are lower for companies that take an active role in health. In addition, employees take fewer sick days. The only people, for example, who came down with the flu in my office were the people who think vaccines are for suckers. Which, of course, they are. Healthy suckers.

Posted by: matt | May 24, 2005 6:02:01 PM

I recently cleared my threshold for number of gym visits that trigger a partial reimbursement from my insurance company. They do make it a bitch to collect that reimbursement, though. The prospect of reimbursement definitely kept me going back.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig | May 24, 2005 6:18:56 PM

If health insurers were smart,

Do you really think that you, in your few months of thinking about this subject, have happened onto an idea that has eluded the minds of the health insurance industry with all of their experience, manpower and resources? As several of the earlier commenters have pointed out, many plans already incentivize in this direction and those that don't most certainly have thought about the concept and decided against it.

It's never a good move to assume that people who spend alot of time and effort in an area are idiots. There's usually a better explanation.

Posted by: Quiet Storm | May 25, 2005 1:36:37 AM

Quiet,
The main issue is who is paying. Insurers don't pay for health club memberships because that is an upfront cost. They hope that by the time currently young people are fat, lazy, and prone to cardiovascular disease, they'll be on a different plan and all those costs will go to someone else. Same reason why it's difficult on many alleged health maintainance plans to enroll in smoking cessation plans.

Posted by: Chris | May 25, 2005 9:45:09 AM

Please stop equating "weight control" with health. You were right the second time - it's exercise and diet. People can be healthy at just about any weight if they exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet.

Posted by: Elayne Riggs | May 26, 2005 7:19:46 AM

I agree with the article but health insurance is very important in case of an accident.

Posted by: California Health Insurance | Oct 25, 2005 10:41:13 PM

Have you seen this before? It's a number guessing game: http://www.amblesideprimary.com/ambleweb/mentalmaths/guessthenumber.html. I guessed 52878, and it got it right! Pretty neat.

Posted by: Merideth Carleton | Nov 15, 2005 8:27:11 PM

Healthcare has been a major issue. If you ask me I can into details and certainly you won't love me to go against your forewritten article that's why I'll SHUT UP now.

Posted by: Jeni | Jan 4, 2006 5:33:40 AM

I think the health must have lunched to planning & control, monitor and regularize drug system in all over the world.

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