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Unless you pay for individual health insurance, or have no insurance at all, you're part of a group health plan, offered through your employer. Traditionally, your risk for healthcare costs has been pooled with the risk of your coworkers, and everyone pays the same amount for insurance. Is that fair to people who take better care of themselves than others? Is it fair to your employer?

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The truth is healthy employees and their employers BOTH pay for the consequences of some employees’ bad habits -- couch-potato weekends, fast-food diets, and pack-a-day addictions -- with higher insurance premiums.

The annual premium an employer pays for covering a family of four averaged $11,500 in 2006, according to the National Coalition on Health Care. And the cost to most employers continues to rise year after year, often outpacing inflation. The cost to employees is rising too -- premiums go up almost every year for most employees, along with deductibles, medication co-payments, and doctor and hospital visit costs.

Overall, healthcare spending in America in 2007 cost more than $2 trillion, and it's expected to double by 2016. Experts agree on three main demographic reasons for the rise in costs:

  • Our population is aging.
  • Smoking, this country's leading cause of preventable death, adds $75 billion to annual healthcare spending. (Smokers can expect to pay $16 thousand extra in lifetime medical bills, by the way.)
  • More than 60% of American adults are either overweight or obese -- a fact that Michael F. Clark, vice president of the human resource firm Hay Group, calls our "metabolic meltdown." This problem adds $12 billion to employers' healthcare bills annually, for costs associated not only with obesity-related diseases (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes) but also with employee absenteeism and disability.
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Companies, meanwhile, are asking their employees to take a greater role in their healthcare:

  • Some offer wellness programs that encourage good health habits. Lower-risk employees who participate in such programs can, in turn, be rewarded with discounted insurance rates or other incentives.
  • Some small employers are eliminating group health insurance, instead putting money into reimbursement accounts that employees can use to buy their own, individual insurance plans.
  • Other employers are offering higher deductible health plans that keep monthly employee premiums down, at the same time contributing money to health savings accounts on behalf of their employees.

Those trends will continue, as employers try to keep their healthcare costs down.

In the end, it's your body, and your health insurance bill. We want to know how the cost of it affects you. Would you be willing to work harder at staying healthy if it meant reduced healthcare insurance costs for you? Why or why not? What are some ways employers could help employees become more engaged in their health, and help lower the cost of healthcare?

What do you think?

Please remember that Synergy is created and published by A.D.A.M., Inc. This article is distributed nationally and is not specific to any given employer. Send your comments to featuredstories@adamcorp.com.

FS Author Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer from New York. Laurie does not enjoy paying insurance, but she does love long walks on the beach. She can be reach at featuredstories@adamcorp.com.