As the waistlines of Americans expand, costs soar. It is said that the obesity epidemic in America is costing nearly $190 billion annually, which lies on the shoulders of those who are not obese.
To give a better idea of how obesity is affecting the state of the country, hospitals are replacing wall mounted toilets with floor models to support the weight. Hospital beds are being made wider and stronger. The Federal Transit Administration is considering testing buses to learn about the impact obese riders have on the braking and steering. It is even estimated that gasoline consumption has increased by a billion gallons a year compared to 50 years ago. This is taking into consideration that cars are more fuel efficient now, but they lose some of that efficiency when they have to transport more weight.
Obviously, the obesity epidemic in the U.S. is well documented and economists are using that information to get a better idea of how it impacts the costs of certain items and services. Now, businesses and the individuals working for them are realizing the cost that expanding waistlines are having on their own bottom lines. This cost comes in the way of higher health insurance premiums for everyone.
Health Care Reform
The Affordable Care Act allows employers to make their obese employees pay between 20 and 50 percent more for their health insurance if they do not opt into a wellness program. The law also allows those receiving Medicare and Medicaid to visit their primary care physician for weight loss reasons. Medicare and Medicaid are also allowed to fund community programs that teach people about weight loss.
Of course, these measures put a sour taste in the mouths of the obese because of the discriminatory factor. It is also argued that individuals can be healthy at any size, which has been demonstrated by some. There are some overweight individuals with no health issues at all, while there are others suffering from diabetes, cardiovascular issues, hypertension, and other weight-related health problems. These health problems lead to a need for more doctors and more pills to treat the medical issues. In fact, it has been found that obesity has added more to healthcare costs than smoking.
Health economists estimate that the average amount of additional medical spending for overweight men adds up to $1,152 per individual annually. This includes hospitalizations and prescription drugs. Obese women are estimated to rack up an additional $3,613 per person per year. This data was compiled by researchers at Lehigh University using 13,837 women with an average BMI (Body Mass Index) of 27 and 9,852 men whose average BMI was 28. It was also found in the study that the medical costs were higher among those that had no insurance than those who had insurance.
Furthermore, it was found that the increase in spending occurs when men reach a BMI of 26-35 and women reach a BMI of 25. The reason for the wide range in the men is because BMI does not reflect the amount of muscle a man may have and muscle weighs more than fat. Men are more likely to have a large volume of muscle that causes them to appear to have a higher BMI than they would if their muscle mass was taken into consideration. This proves that it is possible to be healthy and have a BMI measurement of an overweight person. A man with a BMI of 29 could be in excellent shape. This is why calculating BMI is not ideal for those who are in good physical shape. At the same time, it shows that BMI is not always an effective way of determining insurance premiums.
Living Large and Old
One of the reasons why it is believed obesity has contributed more to costs than smoking is because of the mortality rate of smokers reducing the lifelong drain they have on the system. It was anticipated in the past that the obese would not have a high impact on medical costs because of high mortality, but a high death rate is not the case.
Diabetes drugs, beta blockers, and other medications keep many weight-related medical conditions under control and this is allowing the obese to live longer. This drives up medical costs even more in old age. A person who is not obese drives these costs up dramatically as it is, but being obese later in life means that individuals with even more health issues than average are driving costs higher than that.
Trimming Waistlines and Insurance Premiums
If you are overweight, it is possible you are paying almost 23 percent or more for your insurance than co-workers who are not overweight. By trimming your waistline, you can reduce your insurance premiums. You may even work for an employer who is offering rewards, such as company stock, gift cards, discounted deductibles, and other such incentives.
It is believed, however, that employer incentives are a better route to take than insurance premium-based incentives because the issuance of premium incentives could still inflate costs. In fact, there are some individuals who have sent letters to Congress, asking them to not make premiums a reflection of a person’s weight. First, someone who commits themselves to weight loss could lose weight in an unhealthy way in order to reduce premiums faster. Their premiums may reduce, but the consequences of losing weight in an unhealthy manner could result in even higher medical costs now or in the future.
In the end, there is a lot of debate about whether or not it is right to raise the premiums of those with expanding waistlines before trying other methods, such as free or discounted gym memberships. What is undeniable, however, is that someone who loses weight under the current system can achieve a lower rate. They also reduce their gasoline consumption and even the grocery bill. In other words, there is a lot of money to be saved by being healthier. The big challenge is becoming healthier within a society that promotes so many unhealthy habits