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Health insurance rebates for living healthily
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Stop smoking
Free and reduced-cost, smoking-cessation programs are offered by many insurers, including Group Health Cooperative. Individual telephone sessions or in-person group sessions are offered.

While the cost of smoking-cessation programs can be significant for individuals -- sometimes over $2,000 -- the benefits that accrue to insurers are likely to be even more significant, since the cost of smoking-related illness over a lifetime is far higher. Studies show that people who start a cessation program whose costs are entirely covered by the insurance company are more likely to quit for good.

Measure your health
Sometimes just knowing how healthy you are is enough to spur a change to healthier habits. So goes the reasoning of administrators of the King County health plan in Washington. The county, which is self-insured, has created a program that will allow people to reduce their premiums just by taking a health-risk assessment. Members can lower their premiums further by engaging in healthy habits -- driving the speed limit, wearing sunscreen, and wearing a helmet when bicycling or motorcycling.

The program, which will start taking data in 2006 before being fully implemented in 2007, was partially a response to the increasing health-care costs of the county's 13,000 employees. Over the course of three years, program administrators hope to save $40 million on health-care costs.

Play for prizes
Encouraging exercise by offering rewards like fitness equipment and airline tickets has proved successful for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Members enrolled in the program get points for each day that they exercise. Those who accrue enough points can redeem them for everything from T-shirts to electronics.

Better yet, you don't have to be training for a marathon to get rewarded -- exercise, as defined by the plan, encompasses everything from mowing the lawn and walking the dog to running and biking.

How do you find out if your insurer provides a program like this? Check its Web site or call the customer service line. Such programs tend to be well promoted, and insurers are eager to have you participate, says Auerback. "Over time, people who lead healthy lifestyles have an impact on the cost of health care just as those who make less healthy lifestyle choices," she says. In other words, working on your bottom line (such as it is) can help the insurer's, too. "If we can encourage people who may not otherwise have made [healthy choices] in their lives, we think that can only be a good thing."

While Miller notes that small economic bonuses like this won't make the overall issue of skyrocketing health-care costs go away, they can make a difference to individuals. "We need to be doing a lot of different things, and voluntary healthy lifestyle incentive programs is just one of the long-term strategies," he says.'s corrections policy -- Posted: April 7, 2006
More stories by Erin Peterson
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