For decades health has been referred to as ‘the absence of disease”. Health care providers specialized in treatments and cures. Active preventative health care came to the forefront when the US Surgeon General promulgated the landmark report on tobacco use and its effects on health. Now the emphasis for achieving health has shifted to the patient’s behaviors, requiring life-style modifications.
A new era of incentives for healthier living is dawning. Although the focus of the health care industry remains “remedial” rather than proactive, preventative care is beginning to be respected enough to be reimbursed. Insurance companies initially became involved by covering preventative care such as screening tests and vaccinations. Unfortunately they did not cover weight gain and inactivity in the same fashion. Recent evidence is clearly showing that healthier people are more productive employees and file fewer insurance claims. Finally Medicare has broken new ground in 2004 and recognized obesity as an illness, allowing Americans to file medical claims for diet counseling, medications, and obesity-related surgery.
HMOs, other health insurers, corporations and governmental agencies are now getting into the act and initiating incentive programs. For example, in 2005 physician prescribed “remedial” exercise programs for specific health issues qualified for a tax write off as a medical expense. Some states such as Michigan and Washington have developed smoking cessation, weight control and improved disease management programs. In addition, health insurance plans including Aetna and BC/BS are now offering $150-$200 discounts toward longer term health club membership fees. The fact that 4 out of 5 individuals are relatively inactive and 2 out of 3 Americans are overweight is finally being recognized.
It is surprising how many health club members are unaware of the potential for an insurance benefit for club utilization. I recommend to our members of the Chatham Health club that they should check their policies, and we are happy to provide the necessary receipts for those eligible. Members of other health clubs should do the same, because any opportunity to reduce barriers to fitness must be pursued. Fitness facilities are a critical component for future improvement in the health of our society. Opportunities abound for education about health, diet, and improved lifestyle while exercising. Integration of medical professionals into the fitness industry will further benefit the health of their patients. Ultimately, the cost of remedial health care can decrease for our society.