Stay Healthy or Pay More - ABC5 News Des Moines, IA

Stay Healthy or Pay More

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By Ron Marasco


Healthcare experts say costs are skyrocketing because we've become unhealthier.  Many employers, not to mention states like Iowa, are putting programs in place trying to reverse that trend.

Wellmark sees the trend from both ends, as an insurer and an employer.

"It's more and more common and it's happening every day," said Natalie Bachman, director of compensation and benefits at Wellmark.

Bachman believes one day all employers will have a model similar to CVS's, the popular drugstore chain.  CVS incentivizes (or penalizes, depending how you look at it) employees to have health screenings and enroll in wellness programs that focus on healthy behaviors. 

"We know that we have (a) crisis of health with obesity, with diabetes, with heart disease, with cancer," said Bachman.  "And it's something where most of that is controllable."

Bachman says 92% of Wellmark employees participate in their wellness program.

"It's a win/win situation that we've heard from our employees," said Bachman.  "It helps them be healthy.  It helps them be happier.  Happier, healthy employees are productive employees, and they also keep your healthcare costs lower."

And that's how Governor Branstad looks at it as well.

"If people are able to take more ownership of their own health, and they get rewarded, then the outcomes for both the patients and the taxpayers of Iowa will be significant," said Branstad spokesperson Tim Albrecht.

And that's the simple message behind Governor Branstad's Healthy Iowa Plan, an alternative to medicaid.

"If you understand the risks associated with an unhealthy lifestyle, and you work to change that, you're going to be healthier, you won't have to pay," said Albrecht.

But some people like Janice Laue, president of the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans, worry about how Iowa Healthy recipients who are below the poverty line will pay to travel to screenings, or fork out for more expensive foods like fruits and vegetables.

"Wellness is a good thing," said Laue. "But we have to not only give incentives to people to get well, we also need to give them help to get well."

Under the governor's plan, if you do not participate in the wellness program, you will have to pay a portion of your healthcare costs.

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