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UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See prorev.com for full contents of our site

January 11, 2010

HEALTHCARE BILL FAVORS YUPPIE JOGGERS OVER LOW INCOME UNFIT

ABC News - Incentives within the U.S. Senate health care bill designed to encourage healthy lifestyles unfairly target the poor, elderly, overweight and disabled, and could be exploited by insurance companies for financial gain, advocacy groups claim.

Dozens of health, justice, and disability organizations have signed a letter urging senators to remove a provision in the health care reform bill that would allow insurers to provide reimbursements or incentives to workers who meet certain fitness goals laid out in workplace wellness programs.

In rewarding healthy people for making good choices, those who don't meet fitness goals would be unfairly penalized, the groups said.

"It's indistinguishable from medical underwriting," Sue Nelson, vice president for federal advocacy of the American Heart Association, told reporters.

. . . Under the existing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, group health insurance plans can't discriminate based on an individual's health status by varying insurance premiums.

But the law does allow insurers to provide incentives tied to voluntary "wellness programs," either solely for participating in a workplace wellness program, or for meeting certain health and fitness benchmarks, such as reaching a certain body mass index target.

Those incentives can take the form of extra reimbursements, but they can't top more than 20 percent of the employer's cost of covering the employee.

The Senate bill would raise that figure to 30 percent, so an individual who doesn't meet the wellness goals could hypothetically be paying up to $1,410 more in annual premiums than an employee who met wellness goals.

The amount could be raised to 50 percent, with government approval. People with medical conditions that preclude participation would be offered an alternative program, the bill says.

"Such exorbitant penalties undermine a fundamental goal of healthcare reform -- the creation of a system in which no one can be charged more based on their health status," said the letter, signed by representatives of groups including the American Heart Association, AARP, the American Diabetes Association, and the National Disability Rights Network.


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