Employers Charging The Overweight More For Health Insurance

More employers are penalizing overweight workers on insurance rates and benefits. We look at what’s fair and what’s coming.

In this Tuesday, July 24, 2012, photo, tire inspector Buddy Rice checks for defects in the tire verification area at a Michelin manufacturing plant in Greenville, S.C. (AP)

In this Tuesday, July 24, 2012, photo, tire inspector Buddy Rice checks for defects in the tire verification area at a Michelin manufacturing plant in Greenville, S.C. (AP)


Leslie Kwoh, management reporter for the Wall Street Journal. (@lesliekwoh)

Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health. (@hdarlingnbgh)

Uwe Reinhardt, professor of political economy and professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Listeners On The Debate

By Stefano Kotsonis

We looked at the growing trend of employers penalizing overweight employees.  To a radio producer, it’s a deliciously complicated debate.  To a citizen, devilishly complicated is more like it.   You can just imagine many a listener saying one moment, ‘We MUST do something about this obesity epidemic!’ and in the next be aghast at the idea that companies would take measures to do something about it.

Here’s the story:

First comes word that Samoa Air will start charging its airline passengers by their weight to fly.  Then word that American employers are eyeing something similar for employees’ health insurance.  As health care and insurance costs rise, employers increasingly want to know your weight, your blood pressure, your glucose and cholesterol levels.  Six in ten, according to one survey, say they plan to impose penalties on employees who don’t take action to improve their health.  Does this sound fair?  Inevitable?  Wrong?  Is this the way to health?  To discrimination?

Listeners came down firmly in both camps.  Here’s listener/caller Ron from Sumter, SC:

“I’ve been waiting for this.  I’m a 53-year old nurse….Anyone who know me knows I run at work, I’ve been doing it all my life….High blood pressure is preventable.  We all absorb the cost of people who don’t stay fit.  I think it’s very selfish, especially in today’s climate with Medicare, all the changes.  If we had done this years ago, we would not have [this] dilemma in the health care industry.  The costs are so high now, it’s going to wipe out the system if we don’t do something.”

Caller Elizabeth says:

“It’s really important not to blame the victim…It’s a systemic, cultural problem.  If we want to save money, if insurance companies want to save money, why don’t they take some of the profits from Frito-Lay, from some of the advertising companies that literally shove this stuff, the sugars, the fats, down people’s throats?”

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