It’s not as literal as it sounds. The Alabama State Employees’ Insurance Board has approved a plan which requires state workers to pay up if they don’t utilize free health screenings. The program, which will take effect in 2010, requires state workers to participate in a free health screening for cholesterol, glucose levels, blood pressure and body mass index (BMI). Workers who refuse to participate will pay a $25 monthly surcharge, which the state claims will be used to offset higher insurance premiums for unhealthy workers.
In 2011, Alabama state workers will have to take steps to reduce high risk behaviors as determined by the health screenings. The Wall Street Journal reports that state workers who are diagnosed with certain health conditions would have three options: seek free medical advice; enroll in a state-sponsored wellness program or take steps that lead to improved results at the next screening later that year. State workers which refuse to participate will be charged $25/month starting January 2011.
Opponents claim that these requirements are discriminatory and egregious. But Alabama points towards a similar program from three years ago that required state workers who smoke to pay $24/month to supplement the cost of health insurance as a success.
Further, the state argues that some intervention is required. Alabama has a death rate that far exceeds the national average. Additionally, the state exceeds the national average in cases of obesity and heart disease (according to the CDC); in fact, according to the CDC, nearly 2 in 3 Alabama adults residents are obese, the fifth highest rate in the country.
As the numbers of unhealthy residents climb – along with the spiraling costs of health care – Alabama is clearly willing to try new ideas to keep health risks and costs down. But is that the place of the government? Proponents say yes. Tax policy has been used to curb all manner of behaviors including under-age drinking, snacking and porn. These taxes, sometimes called “sin taxes” are meant to change your behavior.
Does it work? The jury is still out. Those in favor say yes, while critics claim such taxes are merely revenue raisers. What is true is that these taxes and surcharges get a lot of publicity… When the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an ad campaign claiming higher fares for fat people, the reactions were swift and loud – on both sides.
Are taxes like these fair or discriminatory? Is it the place of the government to curb perceived “bad behaviors”? Does it change the equation when the government bears the costs of the perceived “bad behaviors”? Tell me what you think!