One of the unfortunate by-products of our messed up health care system is how some employers are raising employee health insurance contributions for those who engage in lifestyles deemed unhealthy.
They may smoke. They may eat too much or the wrong foods. They may not participate in preventive care. As Reed Abelson reported for the New York Times last November:
More and more employers are demanding that workers who smoke, are overweight or have high cholesterol shoulder a greater share of their health care costs, a shift toward penalizing employees with unhealthy lifestyles rather than rewarding good habits.
This isn’t a screed against personal responsibility. And I understand why employers are assessing options to lasso out-of-control health insurance costs.
But what I see here is a scary slippery slope, one that leads to certain individuals bearing a heavier burden of their health care costs based on the supposed riskiness of everyday conduct.
It may sound good until you apply it evenhandedly: The person who has no problem imposing higher premiums on smokers may forget that the steaks and burgers he enjoys provide reason for raising his premiums, too. And what if vegetarian who doesn’t mind sticking it the carnivore is not getting recommended amounts of protein in her diet? Does this mean that she should pony up higher payments as well?
In addition, if we’re going to play this game, what responsibility do companies that market some of these products bear for promoting these habits — the cigarette makers, fast-food restaurants, and beer companies? They know darn well that their products will have some negative health effects.
And what about bad employers that create stressful working conditions that, in turn, cause some workers to engage in less-than-healthy habits? If we’re preaching responsibility here, shouldn’t they pay a higher share of our health care costs?
Health insurance coverage helps to protect us against the costs of being human, including our own foibles and weaknesses. America remains one of the world’s wealthiest nations, and we have the capacity to provide affordable, quality health care for all. This type of business practice, however, is takes us in the opposite, more punitive, direction.