Who Is Ultimately Responsible For The Cost Of Unhealthy Lifestyle Choices?

Submitted By Dusty1312
Words: 1161
Pages: 5

Life is full of choices. A nurse who has been named nurse of the year twice in her career, has her masters in science, and has her certification in critical care also weighs three hundred pounds. A computer engineer who has designed a patented accounts payable program also goes home nightly and relaxes with a six pack of beer. A cashier at the local Wegmans has the record for scanning more products per hour than anyone else in the organization also smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. An accountant who has never missed a day’s work also races in dirt bike tournaments. An African American father adds salt to everything he eats. A farmer sprays his fields with fertilizer, but never wears a mask. A fifty-year old man working in a factory never sees a doctor also has a strong family history of cancer. Lifestyle choices carry health risks. Who is ultimately responsible for the costs of unhealthy lifestyle choices?
The American healthcare system is threatened by rising health care costs and the increasing incidence and financial burden of chronic diseases. As employers, insurance companies, and the government seek to decrease these escalating costs, there is a concentration on individual health behavioral choices and the personal obligation of the individual to adopt healthy lifestyle choices.
Within the framework of health care reform, there is a growing initiative by employers to impose financial health insurance penalties for unhealthy lifestyle choices. Financial penalties levied by employers and health insurance companies for unhealthy lifestyles are unethical targeting the most vulnerable and sick in our society. Employers and insurance companies have an argument for penalties based on the cost analysis of health expenditures on high risk populations such as smokers and obese employees. “Annual health care costs are roughly $96 billion for smokers and $147 billion for the obese.” (Stobbs 2013) In addition to cost analysis, there is data available which argues that unhealthy lifestyles lead to lower levels of productivity including increased absenteeism. “A University of Illinois at Chicago study of a large national employer found that medium- and high-risk individuals were 6.2 percent and 12.2 percent less productive than low-risk individuals, respectively.” (Burton, et al, 2005) There is also the argument that employers have the right to make financial decisions for their business. Employers pay a great deal of money to provide health insurance for their employees. They should be able to contain costs and hold those employees adopting high-risk behaviors accountable. “Employers have an ethical duty to provide responsible stewardship for the health care programs they administer that pool limited resources to help cover health care costs.” (Pearson, Lieber 2009) The higher medical costs for unhealthy behaviors ultimately lead to lower wages and higher premiums for every employee. In essence, all employees bear the cost for the lifestyles of the few. Society has a responsibility to promote healthy behaviors and penalize those individuals who choose to engage in the opposite. “The American Medical Association cites that at least 25 cents of every health care dollar is spent on the treatment of diseases or disabilities that result from potentially changeable behaviors”(Andre, pg. 1). Where does the employer role begin and end in contributing to that social responsibility? When we accept a job should our health insurance benefits be tied to standards of health defined by our employer? This practice of levying higher insurance premiums based on unhealthy life choices is not a new concept. Automobile insurance has levied higher premiums for male drivers under the new of twenty-five for years. Also automobile insurance premiums increase based on risky behaviors like speeding tickets and accident records. These increases are standard practice for the industry, but is it ethical to adopt similar