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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Health Care Reform and Personal Responsibility

An interesting op-ed appeared in the New York Times this week, addressing a major point of controversy in the health reform debate: personal responsibility.

As we've argued many times, many of our nation's health problems stem from poor lifestyle choices. So is it really fair to ask the rest of us to pay--through higher insurance premiums and taxes--for others' mistakes? The author of the op-ed (Sandeep Jauhar, a cardiologist) says that the question isn't quite that simple.

Lifestyle is only one factor influencing health, he argues, and punitive measures meant to force good behavior aren't effective. In his view, we need a different approach:
Healthy living should be encouraged, but punishing patients who make poor health choices clearly oversimplifies a very complex issue. We should be focusing on public health campaigns: encouraging exercise, smoking cessation and so on. Of course, this will require a change in how we live, how we plan our communities.
Dr. Jauhar is exactly right, and his point brings up one of the challenges of building a successful employee wellness program. When rewards and incentives are involved, it's easy for the program to be viewed as a way to punish those who don't participate. It's up to us to promote the program as a benefit for everyone, regardless of health status.

A number of our clients offer health coaching to their employees, which is an excellent way to support everyone. Our coaches field questions from individuals at all levels of fitness, from beginners to marathon runners.

The new health reform law will eventually require everyone to carry insurance, spreading risk across the population. Where do you fall on this issue? How can we promote both good heath and fairness? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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