Surcharging for extra weight

Published 10:48 pm Thursday, September 4, 2008

Obesity is expensive, and if you work for the state government, it is getting more costly. The State Employees’ Insurance Board voted recently to start charging state workers $25 per month, starting January 2010, if they don’t have free health screenings. If the screenings turn up serious problems with blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose or obesity, then employees will have one year to see a doctor at no cost, enroll in a wellness program, or take steps on their own to improve their health. If they do and show progress in a follow-up screening, they won’t have to pay the $25 a month. But if they don’t, they must pay starting in January 2011. The board hasn’t yet decided how much progress employees must make to avoid the charge.

“We are trying to get individuals to become more aware of their health,” board member Robert Wagstaff of Montgomery told the Associated Press.

This is probably a good measure for the state, and probably some private companies are going to follow suit. The reason this is happening is because it is getting so expensive for health insurance, and obesity is a health risk. People who are overweight are more likely to experience health problems. Thus, they will probably have more visits to the doctor and possibly to the hospital. While obesity is not the only factor that causes illness and health problems, it is a major cause.

According to a study of national costs attributed to both overweight (BMI 25-29.9) and obesity (BMI greater than 30), medical expenses accounted for 9.1 percent of total U.S. medical expenditures in 1998 and may have reached as high as $78.5 billion ($92.6 billion in 2002). That’s a lot of money, and insurance companies have to pass that cost on to their customers, who are mainly businesses that offer insurance as a benefit.

The time that you are at the doctor with illness is lost productivity on the job. That can be attributed as lost time.

While this might be an unpopular decision, it is the best business decision that the state can make right now.