We all know that exercise and a healthy diet help to keep many diseases at bay. Now researchers in a long-term study have found that a healthy lifestyle followed for six years continues to lower the risk for developing type 2 diabetes for another 14 years. That’s a pretty impressive result. Here in Colorado, nearly 221,000 people have diabetes, and another 92,000 have the disease but don’t know it yet. These numbers represent a 50% increase in the last 14 years – so obviously we’re headed in the wrong direction as far as prevention goes. Nationwide the disease is a huge drain on health care resources and accounts for a significant chunk of health insurance claims. This study gives concrete support to the lifestyle changes that we all know are good for us, yet so many people find difficult to implement. Perhaps people need a little external motivation. And considering how much money health insurance companies spend on diabetes each year, it seems that it would behoove them to provide a little of that motivation.
If your health insurance company paid you to follow a healthy lifestyle, would you do it? How much money would it take? Health insurance carriers could give their policy holders an annual credit towards their premium just for getting their blood sugar level checked. Then insureds could get further credits for working with their doctor to set up some basic lifestyle changes and following through with them (with documentation on improvement provided by the doctor). And since the goal would be to take away excuses for not following through, it would make sense if the insurance companies waived any applicable deductibles and copays for the blood sugar tests and follow up appointments with a doctor. People who already lead healthy lifestyles and have normal blood sugar levels could qualify for an additional premium discount if they maintain their health as the years go by.
In the individual health insurance market, insurers are quick to offer increased premiums to applicants with various pre-existing conditions (and in Colorado, applicants who have been diagnosed with diabetes are not eligible for individual health insurance at all). But the idea of giving money back to current policy holders as an incentive to remain healthy hasn’t caught on yet. I know that insurers are loathe to lower premiums, but given the amount of money that an insurance company stands to save if an insured does not end up with diabetes, it seems that it would be worth their while.