Employees Get Paid to Exercise, While Some Pay to Sit Out

Insurers, companies slowly step up preventative health incentives.

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It's hard to find fault with growth in gym and diet-plan benefits coverage (or even, ultimately, with the stick method, given the high-risk national situation). But some critics worry that preventative medicine expense could potentially cannibalize other coverage and care in the short run.

When it comes to seniors and gym incentives, the debate has intensified after the release of a Brown University study in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year.

Study findings show that covered gym benefits through select options may be helping Medicare draw healthier seniors to its membership pool and thus lower its overall costs.

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Cost-cutting can be a positive development, sure. But critics note that Medicare strictly forbids practices such as denying coverage based on existing conditions. Study writers acknowledged that if every plan offered the fitness benefits, it would no longer be an effective way of selecting for the healthiest members. However, until that day and given the continued incentives to take on more profitable enrollees, insurers may employ other related tactics to cherry-pick desirable enrollees. As healthier participants are corralled in certain plans, the cost burden on enrollees and taxpayers to cover the traditional Medicare format, where participants have greater needs, is higher.

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