Take Advantage of Wellness Programs From Your Health Insurance

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While experts debate whether preventive measures lower healthcare costs on a national level, there's plenty of evidence that prevention is beneficial when it comes to your individual health—and your wallet.

According to the American Heart Association, five lifestyle-related factors—never smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption—could prolong life expectancy (at age 50) by 14 years for females and more than 12 years for males (versus people who didn't adopt any of those lifestyle factors).

Keeping your weight down, quitting smoking, staying fit, and reducing stress are some of the best ways to prevent illness and prolong life, and they could reduce the amount of money you have to spend on hospitalization, drugs, and other therapies.

If you have health insurance, you probably know that in most cases, certain preventive care—such as immunizations, various cancer screenings, and tobacco cessation intervention—are covered in full by your health plan. But you may not know that some plans also offer wellness options that may help pay for exercise or weight-loss programs.

Insurers and Employers Trending Toward Wellness

Gym memberships, weight-loss clinics, weight-loss surgery, massage therapy, stress management programs, and tobacco cessation programs are just a few of the wellness benefits included in some insurance plans. Some health insurance plans even offer a discount on electric toothbrushes to help prevent cavities.

Wellness programs tend to be incorporated into employer-sponsored health coverage, although they're also available with coverage that people obtain on their own, such as Medicare Advantage plans. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, almost half of American workplaces offered some sort of wellness program for their workers as of 2017, and the number of employers that offer wellness programs is trending upwards. By 2019, about half of smaller firms and 84% of larger firms offered some type of wellness program for employees.

The five largest health insurers in the U.S. all offer various wellness programs that employers can incorporate with their health benefits package, and there are a variety of wellness program vendors that can create customized wellness packages for employers.

Promoting Healthy People and Budgets

It pays to take advantage of any preventive benefits that come with your insurance policy or employer's benefit package. Some examples of possible savings include:

  • Gym membership: Many health insurance plans include discounts on specific health club memberships that range from about 10% to 50% off the normal price. If your gym plan takes $30 a month out of your checking account, a half-off discount will save you $15 each month. Nearly three-quarters of Medicare Advantage enrollees are in plans that include gym memberships, often through the Silver Sneakers program. Silver Sneakers provides access to virtual fitness classes online, and also allows members complimentary access to about 16,000 gyms in the U.S.
  • Weight-loss program: There are a variety of corporate wellness programs that are specifically designed to help participants lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. And some health insurers offer discounts on commercially available weight loss programs such as Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and NutriSystem.
  • LASIK: Some insurers and corporate wellness programs offer discounts on LASIK eye surgery at participating provider, which can amount to a significant savings.
  • Acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic services: Some health insurance plans cover alternative treatments as part of their regular benefits package. But even if your health plan doesn't, you may find that you have access to discounts from participating acupuncturists, massage therapists, and chiropractors.
  • Free fitness tracker: Things like daily exercise, sleep, and step goals are incorporated into many wellness programs offered by insurers and employers. To track participants' accomplishments, many of these programs offer free fitness trackers—including high-end devices such as Apple Watches, Garmins, and Fitbits.

To find out what wellness benefits you may have, contact your insurance company or your employer.

Discounts on Health Insurance Premiums

Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance costs cannot vary based on a person's health. But employers are allowed to offer wellness programs that include a discount on health insurance premiums, as long as the program is nondiscriminatory in its design. An employer's wellness program can offer discounts of up to 30% off the cost of an employee's health insurance (ie, a reduction in the amount that's deducted from the employee's paychecks to cover the cost of insurance), and the discount on premiums can be as much as 50% if the wellness program is designed to reduce or prevent tobacco use. So you may find that your health coverage costs less if you participate in your employer's wellness program.

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Article Sources
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