We all know that medical costs are rising at an alarming rate. Many factors are causing this spike, but among the most identifiable is the increase in obesity. Two-thirds of us are overweight, and given the trend, this number is expected to reach 75 percent in the next few years.
As researchers have repeatedly documented, being overweight leads to a host of medical problems: gallbladder disease, stroke, coronary diseases, certain cancers, diabetes and others too numerous to list. And these medical conditions lead to a host of medical expenses.
Who will foot the bill?
Certainly families are aware of the worrisome increase in costs when they write checks for their medical expenses. Their awareness, however, is matched by the concern of their employers. While the cost of employee healthcare premiums rises, the pressure to provide coverage to the uninsured also rises—a double whammy.
So what’s an employer to do? Some benefit administrators are employing the “stick” motivational technique by deducting money from the paychecks of employees who don’t meet certain health requirements. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, one Indiana-based company will deduct $30 every two weeks from the paychecks off those who fail to meet weight, cholesterol and blood pressure guidelines.
Other companies are giving “carrots.” That is, the employer reduce the amount of the insurance deductible as an incentive to get and stay trim. Instead of paying the first $5,000 in medical expenses each year, for example, the employee who gets and stays trim may have the deductible reduced to $2,500.
The courts will ultimately decide whether such actions violate employment laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. But one thing is certain. For the first time, Americans recognize the need to address the issue of obesity. According to a Harris Poll, 83 percent of Americans say obesity is “very harmful,” compared to 79 percent who consider smoking “very harmful” (the second leading contender). Obesity is now the number one health issue.
What can you and I do? As employees or retirees—whatever our station in life—we must set an example.
Others will follow our lead if we step up and challenge ourselves to lose weight and get fit. To misquote President Roosevelt, we have nothing to lose but pounds themselves.
And what we have to gain is invaluable. We can regain the self-respect and financial viability that comes from living a disciplined, purposeful life. Is that too much to ask of ourselves? And can we afford to do anything less?