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Health insurance rebates for living healthily

If the price of gasoline has been making you ill, just take a look at your health insurance costs and you'll really feel sick.

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But there is some relief available if you commit to a healthy lifestyle.

Since 2000, health insurance premiums have risen 75 percent, and increasingly, employees are asked to foot more of the bill. In 2005, the average employee was paying $3,500 annually for health-care premiums, which doesn't include out-of-pocket costs for things like prescriptions and co-pays. That's roughly twice as much as you would spend on gas in a year if you drove 15,000 miles a year and got 20 miles to the gallon.

"Over the last five years, health-care premium costs are far outpacing inflation," says Joel Miller, senior vice president for operations at the National Coalition on Health Care. "It's starting to put a real crimp in family budgets."

There might be no quick fix to the health-care costs conundrum, but insurers are beginning to realize they can cut their own costs -- and that of their insured members -- by encouraging and rewarding healthy behavior. To that end, insurers are helping to subsidize everything from gym memberships to food bills, and offering incentives such as T-shirts and iPods for people willing to work up a sweat.

There are lots of things you can't control that will affect the cost of your insurance, like your age and pre-existing conditions. But here are a few programs that reward you for the choices you make every day which affect your health.

Eat healthy
Physicians Plus Insurance Corporation is hoping to get its members to eat healthier by encouraging them to join a community supported agriculture farm. In exchange for a one-time fee, CSA members receive locally grown, freshly harvested fruits and vegetables each week throughout the growing season. CSA members insured by Physicians Plus can receive up to a $200 rebate each year for joining a farm.

Kathryne Auerback, marketing director for Physicians Plus, says the innovative program got rave reviews from its members when the pilot debuted in 2004, and more than 100 signed up just days after the insurer officially rolled out the program in January 2006. "We feel that [community supported agriculture] is a really healthy model for the community, and it's a convenient way for our members to eat their veggies," she says.

Exercise often
Medica is one insurer that's subsidizing exercise. Join a qualifying gym, exercise at least eight times a month, and it will reimburse $20 of your monthly membership. Members can also integrate that into a free online plan, says Greg Bury, a spokesman for Medica. "Members can track their workouts, do meal planning, and engage with a personal fitness coach," he says.

The incentive is working: A survey of the insurer's members showed that those who have enrolled in the program are far more likely to exercise at least twice a week than they were before. Even those who belonged to a gym before the program started are hitting the gym more often. Half of the people in the program have reported that they have lost weight and have more energy.

Next: "Program administrators hope to save $40 million ..."
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