Employers May Impose Penalties on Employees Who Don't Make Lifestyle Changes To Improve Health

Private insurance has always penalized the overweight or those with unhealthy lifestyle choices, like smoking or extreme sports. Spring is a great time to consider what changes you can make now that will help you save on insurance costs.

April 17, 2013

Americans are notorious for not maintaining a healthy lifestyle. From fast food joints on every corner to working longer hours than any country in the world, Americans have some of the biggest waistlines in the world. Spring is here, the Affordable Care Act is moving towards full implementation and now is a terrific time to assess how to make lifestyle changes that can help everyone save on insurance costs.

"Americans get a bad rep for being lazy, but the truth is, American culture goes hand in hand with unhealthy lifestyles. Technology is a contributor to this, as well as the rapid pace society is taking. The nation has gone from having homemade dinners every night to driving through a fast food restaurant on the way home from work. Instead of taking time to work out, employees and entrepreneurs put in long hours at the office. All of this eventually takes a toll on the body and health. Unfortunately, that lifestyle will eventually will take a toll on a people's wallets too," says Frank N. Darras, America's top insurance lawyer.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that that obesity is linked with more health care costs than smoking. In fact, people who are obese incur an extra $1,850 in health costs a year compared with normal weight people. People who smoke have $1,275 extra health care costs per year. For those who are considered morbidly obese, the costs can get up to $5,500 more per year.

"Those cost numbers are startling. It just doesn't seem equitable that the obese and smokers would pay the same amount for health insurance as people who take care of themselves and costs insurance companies less," says Darras.

Private insurance has always penalized the overweight or those with unhealthy lifestyle choices, like smoking or extreme sports. These people pay higher premiums in the private insurance market or may not be insurable at all based on their lifestyle. Most employer-sponsored plans have been limited in charging more for an unhealthy lifestyle up until now. However, according to NPR, six in ten employers plan to impose penalties on employees who don't take action to improve their health.

"While some may be outraged, others look at it as a step in the right direction. Why should someone else carry the costs of another's bad habits? It's not just financially that some feel the burden of an unhealthy lifestyle, it's in productivity at work too," says Darras.

A Gallup poll found that overweight and obese workers cost $153 billion each year to businesses because of lost productivity. They miss an extra 450 million days of work each year compared with those who keep themselves healthy.

"Obesity, drugs and alcohol and smokers are at the center of a huge debate right now. Those who decide to smoke, excessively drink, or participate in extreme sports increase their risk of serious illness and injury. Where do we draw the line and at what point do people become responsible for their own choices. Increasing their insurance premiums may be just what they need to change their bad habits," says Darras.