S.C. Gov. Approving Insurance Breaks for Healthy Choices

The State government of South Carolina gave tentative approval to an idea which could result in breaks on insurance premiums for obese public employees who get in shape.  This is the latest in legislations by that state attempting to save money on healthcare costs by encouraging individuals receiving benefits from the state to adopt healthier lifestyles.

The first such measure was instituted by the five-member Budget and Control Board in late 2008.  At that time a plan was approved to charge smokers covered by South Carolina’s health plan to pay a $25 surcharge on insurance premiums, and this took effect in January of last year.  At that time, smokers spoke out, calling the increase unfair, since smoking is not the sole bad habit that results in increased costs for health care.

Smoking increases a person’s risk of various kinds of cancer, especially lung cancer. It also pre-disposes people for such problems as emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis and more. Smokers have a higher likelihood of heart disease, and babies born to mothers who smoke are more likely to be underweight. Non-smokers are also impacted by second-hand smoke. Children are especially susceptible to respiratory problems due to second-hand smoke. It is estimated that smoking causes millions of extra dollars in health care spending per year for both smokers and non-smokers affected by second-hand smoke.

In 2009, State Senator Greg Ryberg (R-Aiken), proposed a bill that would implement a similar extra charge on premiums for obese workers, with an additional surcharge being applied on an individual basis based on body mass index.  This bill died, however, with the state senate ultimately deciding that such a plan was too difficult to enforce or administer.  In Senator Ryberg’s new plan, instead of penalties for being overweight, obese people who shed the extra pounds will get discounts on their premiums.

“It’s the carrot instead of the stick approach,” said Ryberg. “This incentivizes people to live healthier lifestyles.”

Ryberg’s current plan is an amendment to a much larger bill that addresses who is eligible to enroll in the state health care plan.  Currently almost 410,000 public employees and their family members are covered under the state’s health insurance, and the bill intends to expand that number.  South Carolina ranks 9th in the country in regards to obesity, with about 30% of all adults considered to be seriously overweight.

Doctors agree that obese persons suffer from serious health risks, with those risks increasing the more overweight the person is.  A person who is obese is twice as likely to die prematurely as a non-obese person.  Obesity carries with it increased risks for heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma, and many other health problems.  Senator Ryberg’s proposal seeks to lower health costs by providing incentives to overweight people to provide preventative maintenance to their health care needs by living a more healthy lifestyle.