With more talk about the new health care plan come more people are asking if fat people should be charged more for health insurance I posted about this a couple years ago so I’m reposting that with some updates today:
I was in line at the grocery store when I noticed the woman behind me eyeing my enchiladas. Always one to make conversation I said “They are actually really good for frozen food, no preservatives or weird chemicals, and they’re tasty.”
She sighed, in what I’ve been taught to recognize as longing”, and said – “I can’t, I’m on Atkins”. She paused, smiled wryly and said “sixth time’s the charm…”.
I must have made a “huh” face because she went on “my work charges me extra for my insurance if I’m overweight – it costs me about $600.00 a year. I’ve been on and off every diet and I’m heavier now then when I started. I’ll lose 30 pounds and gain back 35, lose 20 and gain back 40, it’s a vicious cycle but $600 is a lot of money to me so I have keep trying, right?”
Now, this is something that I’ve heard of but don’t know much about. Since I run my own business, I am not covered by a company policy. I am literally too fat to qualify for private insurance but that’s another blog.
So I went to a friend who I know is charged $50 per month extra for her insurance. I asked her how it works. For her company if her BMI is over a certain number OR if her BP/Cholesterol/Glucose does not meet a certain standard, she is charged $50. She meets the BP/Cholesterol/Glucose standard but her BMI is too high so she gets charged.
Whether you call it additional premium for large employees or “incentives” for small employees (like the ridiculous Whole Foods policy), companies and their insurance plans that charge more for fat people are penalizing their employees for failing to do something that nobody can prove is possible, for a reason that nobody can prove is valid, with a probable outcome of leaving their employees less healthy than they were when they started.
It’s not just size discrimination, it’s ludicrous. You’ll hear that size is a matter of personal responsibility. I think that personal responsibility includes not trying to find a way to justify participating in widespread discrimination.
These yearly weigh ins encourage unhealthy behaviors as employees trying to “make weight” participate in all kinds of unhealthy and dangerous crash diets, many knowing that they will gain the weight back but needing to save the money.
It also sets a dangerous precedent. When these fat penalties stop being fun money for insurance companies, what group will they target next to increase revenue?
Why not charge employees who bike to work an extra premium because their sun exposure increases their risk for skin cancer? Charge people who eat a lot of fish since high mercury levels in fish correlate to health issues. What if they find out that people who live in a specific zip code tend to get the flu more often – can they be charged more too?
Currently the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act precludes charging more based on the results of genetic testing. In reality though, isn’t that just only until the Insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies go to work? They’ve managed to lower the threshold for obesity as well as the numbers that indicate high blood pressure and high cholesterol to help bolster their profits. They are already charging based on outcomes that can be genetic in nature (like cholesterol and body size) so I can’t imagine that working on charging based on genetic predisposition is far behind.
This is an extremely slippery slope that should concern everyone. There are serious problems with healthism and ableism in the way that we charge for insurance in general but when you look at charging fat people more – which would be a bad idea even if it was supported by the evidence, it is not: Despite the fact that there is plenty of evidence that shows that weight is not changeable for most people, and that habits are a much better determinant of health than body size, companies are currently charging more for insurance based upon how someone looks. It’s not right, it’s discrimination, and it needs to stop. Right now.
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