(The following editorial was written by Bruce Burke and published in the Centre Daily Times)
As a small-business owner of a gym in St. College, I have experienced the extreme increases in health insurance premiums. From 2000 to 2004, our insurance premiums increased 100 percent. In that time, none of us ever came close to spending more on health care than we did on our premiums.
I learned it didn’t matter how healthy we were. We were “community rated,” meaning we were lumped in with the community at large. Why? Wouldn’t it make more sense to provide a financial incentive to people who eat right, don’t smoke and exercise regularly?
While I understand this is how insurance works (they make money on some and lose money on others), the fact is that this system is broken. It must be changed.
For us to continue paying 100 percent of our employees’ health insurance, we had to explore different options. We settled on a high deductible insurance policy used in tandem with a health savings account. We are now in our fifth year of using this type of coverage and I can’t for the life of me understand why this is not what the government is lobbying for.
Until we meet our deductible, we pay our medical expenses out of our HSA, which we fund with pre-tax dollars. The less we spend on health care, the more we accumulate in our account. This has had a profound effect on how we approach our care. We now shop for our prescriptions and have found huge differences in the cost of the same generic drug.
We explain to our physician that we are paying for all services out of pocket and that the costs matter. As a result, we have saved literally thousands of dollars. By taking ownership of our health care, we now reap the financial benefits of being healthy, not the insurance company.
As long as insurance companies provide coverage that includes nothing more than a small copayment, I can’t imagine consumers truly taking ownership of their health care.
As a fitness professional, I have seen firsthand the positive effects exercise has on health. We have worked with thousands of people and have seen many of them literally exercise their afflictions away. The tangible benefits are as plain as they could be, yet more than 60 percent of adults in America do no exercise. It strikes me as odd that, with all the expensive government sponsored options being floated, the idea of incentivizing people to exercise is rarely mentioned.
If the government wants to reform health care, it must focus on two things: disease prevention through exercise and nutrition and making consumers responsible for more of the cost of their health care.
Many will think I am crazy for suggesting we pay more. After all, it is the exorbitant cost of health care that is the problem. But we are already paying, just in different, less constructive ways. For most, these two solutions will begin to go hand in hand — there will be a tangible financial incentive for making the right decisions and being healthy.
Without them, our system is doomed to fail.
Bruce Burke is President and Founder of One on One, specializing in personal fitness training in State College, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.