|Health insurance rebates for living
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,"