County health plan punishes for bad habits

Category »  Health Care News
Posted By CHOICE on Wednesday, April 20, 2005
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SEATTLE -- King County employees with unhealthy habits will have to pay more for medical care under a program adopted by county officials and labor unions.

 Under an agreement reached last month, workers who maintain health-conscious lifestyles and manage diseases will earn points. Starting in 2007, those who refuse to complete confidential questionnaires or fail to earn enough points must pay more than $1,000 a year in higher out-of-pocket expenses, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Monday.
"We wanted employees to take ownership of their health," said Caroline Whalen, a county administrator.

The county expects to save $32.8 million from January 2007 to the end of 2009 under the Healthy Incentives Program if 60 percent of the adults covered by health care plans participate and 10 percent of high-risk people change their habits, Whalen said.

Some employees are unhappy, saying they shouldn't face cuts in benefits for personal choices.

"Why should people be penalized for living a lifestyle that they want to live? That's their right," said Tim Miller, 46, an accountant.

"It's true, as a general rule, that if you eat healthier (and) get more exercise, you'll live longer. Despite that fact, it's intrinsically unfair," Miller said.

County Executive Ron Sims described the new system as an "optional incentive program" rather than a punishment plan.

The program was supported by union leaders who preferred personal accountability to potentially higher health costs for everyone or layoffs, Sims said.

Source: The Olympian