Arkansas Health Plan Sees Higher Costs for Unhealthy Behaviors

Your insurance company would like you to stop smoking, lose weight and get off the couch — for your health and its financial well-being.

A large study of members of the Arkansas State and Public School Employees Health Plan finds that health care costs are higher for those who report they are obese, are smokers or are physically inactive. All three behaviors are risk factors for medical conditions including heart disease and diabetes.

Although the findings are not startling, this study took in an unusual site for such research, and demonstrated that personal health habits are a big indicator of costs, said lead author Rhonda Hill.

“If we can continue to build on this research, we can use it to both understand our health behaviors and risks and to identify what programs our members need to improve their health,” said Hill, a prevention specialist with the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement in Little Rock.

Each self-reported risk factor increased annual costs compared to those for members who were normal weight, did not use tobacco and were active five or more days a week.

The average annual increase in cost was 13 percent higher for people who said they smoked, 45 percent higher for those who were obese, and 33 percent higher for the inactive. The annual increase was 75 percent higher for those who were both obese and inactive. Those who said they had all three risks had 86 percent higher annual costs on average than those with no behavioral risks.

Participants who admitted they had high risks had average annual health care costs of $4432, but average annual costs were $2382 for those who did not. Costs also more than doubled for people ages 55 to 64 who said they smoked, were overweight, and inactive compared to those in the same age group who said they had none of those risky behaviors.

The study, which comprises more than 43,000 participants, appears online and in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“This study highlights the significant cost impact of unhealthy behaviors. Our industry has prioritized this issue and has implemented innovative programs to encourage healthier lifestyles,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesperson for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a health insurance trade association in Washington.

Such programs include providing incentives for healthy behaviors, such as extra days off work for meeting exercise and weight goals, which the Arkansas health plan offers, he said. “This type of research is essential to understanding the key drivers in rising health costs.”

American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Contact the editorial office at (858) 534-9340 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Hill RK, et al. Self-reported health risks linked to health care plan cost and age group. Am J Prev Med 36(6), 2009.

Source: Health Behavior News Service

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