Tags: lifestyles | health | bill

Smokers, Overweight People to Face Fine Under Health Bill

Thursday, 01 Oct 2009 12:56 PM

By Dan Weil

The Senate Finance Committee approved an amendment to the healthcare bill Wednesday that would allow employers to charge workers with unhealthy lifestyles more for their insurance coverage.

The amendment would permits employers to adjust premiums as much as 50 percent according to the level of workers’ health habits, up from 20 percent now.

“Weight gain and unhealthy lifestyles that focus on smoking and lack of exercise have skyrocketed our healthcare costs," Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said in a statement cited by Politico news service.

Ensign, who sponsored the amendment along with and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said, "These costs could be lowered by focusing on what makes us healthy — through weight loss programs, smoking cessation and preventive care. Voluntary employee participation in these areas should naturally be reflected in lower healthcare costs.”

Opponents, including the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association, counter that the new rule may spur insurers and companies to keep basing coverage decisions on pre-existing conditions, even though the bill itself prohibits that.

A consortium of healthcare advocacy groups wrote in a letter: “While we appreciate the amendments’ intent to encourage healthy behaviors, we believe that allowing employers to vary premiums by up to 50 percent of the total cost of employee coverage could lead to discriminatory practices and make health coverage unaffordable for those who need it the most.”

Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who is a doctor himself, says premium differences are important.

“Americans want simple, practical, affordable changes now. . . Changes that offer reductions in premiums for making healthy lifestyle choices,” he wrote in the Little Chicago Review.

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