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Killed Bill

Quinn Phillips

November 16, 2011

Groups like the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Heart Association are well known — aside from their disease-related advocacy — for advocating a healthy lifestyle, one that may lower the risk of developing the health problems they represent. But according to a recent report, it is precisely these groups that blocked an effort in Congress that would have given people a financial incentive to make health improvements.

The bill in question, HR 3472, would have required most health insurance plans to reduce premiums for members based on certain measures of lifestyle improvements. It was introduced two years ago by then-Representative Kathleen Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania, who lost her bid for reelection last year. At the time, the bill received little media attention. The week before last, however, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart aired a segment in which correspondent Wyatt Cenac interviewed Rep. Dahlkemper about how the bill met its demise.

According to Rep. Dahlkemper, the medical organizations expressed their opposition on the grounds that many of the people they represent could not make the lifestyle improvements necessary for a discount under her bill. Although the Daily Show segment seems to suggest that people would have been able to receive a discount simply by exercising or joining a diet program, the American Diabetes Association disputes this characterization. In a statement issued the day after the segment aired, the ADA claims that it “took comedic license with the facts.” According to the ADA, the bill would have allowed health insurance companies to raise or lower premiums based on blood pressure, smoking status, cholesterol levels, body weight, or blood glucose control, thus “penaliz[ing] people with pre-existing health conditions and certain health risks.” According to the official summary of the bill at OpenCongress.org, HR 3472 would have required group and individual private health insurance plans to offer premium discounts for healthy behaviors based on guidelines created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Healthy behavior would be “indicated by factors related to smoking, blood pressure, body mass index, lipoprotein levels, and hemoglobin A1c levels.”

What do you think — is offering discounts on health insurance for healthy behaviors a good idea? If so, how should healthy behavior be measured — through medical test results, as in HR 3472, or by some other metric? Were the medical organizations right or wrong to lobby against the bill? Do you feel you would be more motivated to adopt healthy behaviors if you got a discount on your health insurance in exchange? Leave a comment below!

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