Obese? You may pay more for insurance

Some employers are ignoring the law and sticking employees who have unfavorable health scores with higher premiums.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 30, 2013 12:46PM

This post comes from Jen Wieczner at partner site MarketWatch.


MarketWatch logoHere's something employees don't usually expect when they attend orientation for a new job: weigh-ins and waistline measurements.


Image: Overweight © Image Source, Getty ImagesBut as companies struggle to curb rising health care costs, they are increasingly pointing a finger at workers' ballooning bellies. Obesity-related health problems account for a big chunk of medical claims, insurance experts say, leading some executives to believe the best way to trim their budgets is to get workers to trim their own fat first.


"There's a lot of concern around how obesity should be dealt with in the corporate setting," says Michael Wood, a senior health management consultant at human resources firm Towers Watson.


For the past few years, companies have experimented with tying health insurance premiums to people's health. Here's how it works: Employees go through medical and biometric testing as part of their health insurance open-enrollment process. They are weighed, their height and blood pressure are measured, and their blood is drawn. Those with high scores on cholesterol, glucose and blood pressure -- or with chronic conditions like diabetes -- are told they will have to pay higher premiums unless they actively try to address any risky conditions.


The premiums can also be tied directly to one's body mass index (those with scores over 25 are rated overweight; 30 and above is considered obese). Some companies hike rates even for those with a BMI as low as 27, Wood says. An online tool on HealthInsurancePlus.com, for one, allows consumers to estimate their BMI and premiums by plugging in their height and weight. Expect to see a 25% increase in premiums for BMI scores greater than 30 or 31 in major health insurers' plans; someone with a BMI over 39 might pay 50% more a month, according to the site.


A separate report by eHealthInsurance, an online health plan marketplace, found that individual insurance policyholders in the obese category paid 22% more in monthly premiums, on average, compared with those with "healthy" weight (obese men paid 29% more).

But since body mass index is the rough equivalent of a fat score, some critics say forcing employees to pay fees for being fat is too personal and unfair. While companies are legally allowed to raise premiums on employees who are obese or have other chronic conditions only if they provide a way to duck the charge through treatment or participation in Weight Watchers or disease management programs, some employers are being more strict -- requiring employees to shave off BMI points by dropping pounds before they'll waive the surcharges, says Wood.


Some are ignoring the law altogether and simply sticking employees who have unfavorable health scores with higher premiums. "The return on healthier folks is worth the risk of somebody trying to sue them for discrimination," Wood says.


To be sure, a few extra pounds isn't necessarily a bad thing. A new study of BMI and mortality by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that individuals rated overweight, with a BMI of 25 to 30, had a 6% lower risk of death than those in the "healthy" category. But individuals considered obese, with a BMI of 30 or above, had an 18% higher death risk -- and becomes greater as weight increases.


Making smokers pay extra is more widely accepted than penalizing workers for relative fatness, says Wood -- and perhaps with good reason. Smokers have a higher success rate with quitting than obese people have with getting back to normal weight. Plus, he adds, smoking seems more like a choice than being heavy. "You don't have to smoke to live; you have to eat to live," Wood says.


More from MarketWatch and MSN Money:



Feb 4, 2013 1:38PM

Food Stamps are one of the most abused and wasteful social program this country has ever developed. A family of four receives more money monthly then my family of five spends a month on food. The amount paid out each month should be cut by at least one third. Here is how those on food stamps would not go hungry or be malnourished because of this change. Purchases by food stamps should be restricted to the following: Fresh/frozen non prepared meats & fish, fresh/frozen non prepared vegetables, deli meats/cheeses, canned goods, breads, non sweetened dairy, and juices. The following would be banned from being purchased by food stamps: Soda, bottled water, power and energy drinks, coffee, tea, ice cream, candy, energy bars, any pre-prepared meals or sandwiches, snacks/junk food, pet food, cigarettes and alcohol.

Jan 30, 2013 8:20PM
Drinkers, you are next. Didn't see that coming, did you ? Too busy bitching about smokers.
Jan 30, 2013 2:52PM

Obamacare is charging smokers $4000 - $5000 a year in penalty tax. I'm sure the overweight crowd is next. Get ready folks.


Feb 4, 2013 4:27PM

This is Just the beginning.


We're about to find out just how FREE "Free" healthcare is.

Feb 4, 2013 12:44PM
Yes, you have to eat to live.  But, you don't have to eat a truckload of Doritos. Eat whole, unprocessed foods, turn off the TV and go for a hike. It's not rocket science. 
Feb 4, 2013 4:55PM
Why are people associating being healthy with only your weight?  Weight is not the only criteria for being healthy.  There are a lot more factors than weight for being healthy.  For instance, the person sitting next to me right now is in the "healthy" weight category according to the BMI, however, she smokes, eats nothing but junk food, hasn't probably eaten a fruit or vegetable in at least 3 days, drinks only regular soda and no water, eats out for lunch at Wendy's or McDonalds five days a week, drinks heavily on the weekends, the only exercise she gets is from walking to and from the bar, has a cholesterol level in the 300's, and has pre-hypertension at the age of 32.  But because she is in the "healthy" category on the BMI she would not pay higher premiums, even though she is at higher risk.  Whereas me who exercises 5 days a week for 30-45 minutes, eats 7-11 fruits and veggies a day, eats only lean meats, brings my lunch to work everyday, drinks no pop only water and tea, has a cholesterol of 123, and a blood pressure of 100's of 60's, but I am in the "obese" category on that BMI would pay higher premiums.  Please explain to me how taking one risk factor, that yes increases your risk of health, is the only thing that should be taken into account. 
Feb 4, 2013 4:24PM

If you have lots of speeding tickets, you're a higher risk, so you pay higher car insurance. If you're fat, or smoke, or have other unhealthy habits, you are a higher risk, and you should sure as hell pay more than those of us who take care of ourselves.

Feb 1, 2013 11:42AM
So most commentators find this to be socialist. That's interesting because I feel like it's the opposite of socialism. I eat healthy, make fresh vegetable juice daily and exercise daily. Why should I have to subsidize an obese person who sits around eating Cheetos and drinking soda all day? It is socialism for me to pay the rate as that person!  
Jan 31, 2013 12:40PM
Like Germany and burning books and the Holocaust  history: One: Pay more for smoking by discrimination with penalties or fines,. Now. pay more for being overweight with higher premiums. Next alcohol, driving, cell phones, gun control?  When are people going to wake up? Your civil liberties and rights are all being taken away through this kind of legislation.  These are all taking steps toward the path of a "Police State". How much longer will it be when the requirement will be needing a pass port to go state to state? How much longer will it be before you will need a number on your head or hand before you get a job or buy something? This will all happen if you don't wake up and take action and get our politician under control. The Constitution is Of the People, For the People and By the People with Equal Rights and Justice for All . Not just a few.
Feb 4, 2013 4:27PM
Heck yeah they should pay more, but who shouldn't? Just because obese are a health risk to themselves, what about smokers? drinkers? drug users? Ect. We all have habits that cost our health.
Feb 4, 2013 5:01PM

I have said for years that the companies that provided "Preventative Health and Wellness Programs" were just gathering information, on your personal medical information, to use against you.

I see blood draws coming, to see what your DNA holds against you. Then they will determine what your health coverage will cost.


Jan 31, 2013 7:12AM

Genetic testing will be next. If you don't know what that is, look it up.

Feb 4, 2013 4:32PM

You wanted socialism from Odumass now live with your mistake

I dont want or need your dam healthcare system its all a scam.

Welcome to the new World order

Feb 4, 2013 5:45PM
I work out and lift weights so I carry more muscle which weighs more than fat. So therefore if you take my height and weight I am considered obese. But if you take someone else that weighs the same they are obese. They will need to come up with a better indicator for predicting obesity.
Feb 4, 2013 4:38PM

There should be no stipulations on life style, thats profiling!  Typical say one thing do another liberalism!  Or just make it up as we go that seems to work for you. 

Feb 4, 2013 4:34PM
ill blow my brains out before i pay one red dime to this administration for obamacare screw obama and his socialist agenda
Jan 30, 2013 3:05PM

It was bound to happen - first the smokers were villainized and penalized, because it was socially acceptable.  Now, that smokers are dwindling, a new target must be picked, and honestly, why not the overweight?  Complications of obesity, and conditions caused or worsened by obesity, cost a fortune to treat.  Despite Mr. Wood's assertion, obesity is a "lifestyle" choice like smoking in many cases and can be "cured" with knowledge and hard work, just like smokers can choose not to smoke.

Feb 4, 2013 4:40PM
The insurance companies are the cause of it all I believe they should be boycotted til they are broke and giving insurance away
Feb 4, 2013 4:55PM

Let me get this straight. A man can have sex with another man, we know the consequences, and its okay. BUT a smoker, we know the consequences, has to pay more? Maybe we need to classify smaokers as a minority.

Feb 4, 2013 1:37PM
You should, and the government should cut you off. I should not have to pay for your excess. How the hell do you get to be fat if you are so poor?
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