Eating Your Way into the Hospital and the Poorhouse

By Insurance.com Posted : 09/16/2004

Ballooning costs and ballooning waistlines. When it comes to health and health insurance, these are the two biggest issues on the plate today. But are these really two separate problems? You already know that too many super-sized meal deals will cost you in the long-term, but you may not have realized how much of a price you`re paying now --in health insurance dollars-- for the national weight problem.

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Dollars & Pounds

Health insurance rates have long been on the upswing, with double-digit increases in each of the past three years. Most analysts blame an increased use of medical services for driving up costs. But are we really just a nation of doctor`s office junkies? Surely we don`t go for fun. Why are we seeing the doctor so much anyway? The answer may be: obesity. Curiously, insurance started getting more expensive at about the same time Americans really started getting heavier. It`s impossible to know exactly how much obesity contributes to the increase in insurance costs, but take a look at some numbers: Over 60% of Americans presently qualify as overweight or obese. Even among children, obesity rates have tripled over the past decade. And obesity is known to result in a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer, as well as respiratory problems. And get this: The Surgeon General`s office estimates that, all told, obesity cost the economy $117 billion in the year 2000 alone.

Obesity and Health Insurance

Insurance companies understand that obesity isn`t profitable. If you`re an obese person trying to get health coverage on your own, chances are that you`ll be turned down due to the risks associated with your weight. And if you`re not turned down, you`ll probably pay more for coverage, up to twice as much as a slim person. Even though you can`t be turned down for employer-sponsored health insurance based upon your weight, the increased cost of insuring you is still there, borne not only by yourself but by your coworkers as well.

Now this doesn`t mean that slim folks should blame heavier folks for the annual insurance rate hikes that everyone dreads. There are other factors involved, like the increased use of prescription drugs and the renegotiation of rates that insurance companies pay to doctors. But, these examples serve to demonstrate the fact that this problem touches most all of us in one way or another. And if so many Americans across the country are obese and it`s twice as expensive to profitably insure an obese person, you can begin to see how big a role expanding girth may play in expanding health insurance costs.

Our Prospects for a National Diet

So, what can be done, and who`s responsible? In the United States, it`s expected that obesity will soon overtake smoking as the number-one cause of preventable death. Through a combination of government action and an aggressive public persuasion campaign, smoking is on the decline. These tactics can be employed in the battle on obesity as well.

Perhaps a greater awareness of the connection between obesity and health insurance costs will encourage government and public health organizations to step into the fray. Perhaps it will prod health insurance companies to expand coverage for weight-loss programs and procedures. And if we as individuals can`t bring ourselves to take our health more seriously, perhaps we can bring ourselves to take our pocketbooks more seriously.

Courtesy of eHealthInsurance Services Inc.

Please note that this description/explanation is intended only as a guideline.

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