The following are my comments to Sue Schick’s blog, Are you ready to commit to a wellness program?
With all of the pronouncements coming from Washington about healthcare reform, it is easy to be waylaid by Gossamer eddies and side currents that pay little attention to one key area—health. There is plenty of discussion about insuring the uninsured, covering pre-existing conditions, and the rollout of a national healthcare model under the guise of healthcare information technology and facilitating the transport of electronic medical records.
I think Sue’s words are spot-on and timely. Even if nobody is going to pay for it, with so many Americans participating in the healthcare conversation, an entire industry being re-engineered, and a trillion dollars to fund the transformation, should not there be more attention paid to wellness, to proactively making one responsible for one’s own health?
Unfortunately, my perspective on this issue is shaped from having been there, done that, got the T-shirt—a heart attack at the age of forty-six. I’ve transformed myself from someone who took twenty-four years off between workouts to barely taking twenty-four hours off between workouts. I didn’t need an employer to sponsor a wellness program; all I needed was a ride in an ambulance.
There may be a lot of different ways to get someone’s attention around wellness, around being responsible. Those who want to be well will have to make that decision for themselves. No company can do it for you, but companies certainly can be supportive of your efforts to help yourself.
There has been a lot of conversation in the healthcare debate about what role the insurance companies have played in driving reform. Right or wrong, a number of stakeholders view payors as bad actors, as the raison d’être of reform.
Wellness seems to offer payors a way to put on the white hat, to be proactive. Patients understand that they do not pay their providers for their healthcare. In the event patients need a provider, patients pay the insurers, cross their fingers, and hope the insurers agree to cover the expense.
I am somewhat of a dilettante to the insurance side of the healthcare model, so I apologize in advance if I misspeak. Here’s my take as to the white hat opportunity, a way to take a leadership role in the matter of wellness. When you apply for insurance, you receive negative ratings for unhealthy and unsafe behaviors; smoking, health history, sky diving. However, if you run five days a week, maintain your weight, eat fish and refrain from drinking, you accrue no points for good behavior. In fact, you are rated as though you made no proactive attempts to manage your own health.
Auto insurance companies raise your rates for certain bad behaviors, and they lower them for certain good behaviors. No accidents for two years—the rate goes down. No traffic violations—the rate goes down. Behavior modification. I am aware of it and I manage my behavior to get lower rates.
Can a similar model work for health insurance? What would it take for payors to offer an incentive model for rewarding good behaviors?