When it comes to reality TV, I have one guilty pleasure: The Biggest Loser. I think it’s inspiring to watch people overcome critical emotional and mental limitations to make a much-needed transformation in their bodies. As a result, they improve their confidence in their appearance and build strength from their exercise regimen. When I see the contestants start to reverse some long-term chronic illnesses through their hard work, I wonder how a change in lifestyle could affect my clients’ health—and their health insurance policies.
Basic steps to maintaining a healthy lifestyle
Many Americans are guilty of not always maintaining a healthy lifestyle—myself included. How can you and I stay healthy? Taking the following four steps definitely can help:
- Eating the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
- Not smoking.
- Exercising 30 minutes or more, five days per week.
- Maintaining a healthy weight with a BMI under 25.
Your lifestyle’s effect on your insurance premium
If you don’t maintain a healthy lifestyle, you’re more at risk for illness, which means more medical treatments, office visits, procedures, and medications—and higher healthcare costs. Chronic illness presents a continued challenge on an already burdened healthcare system. If you have a history of illness, you may be required to pay higher health insurance premiums and you may have higher out-of-pocket costs and deductibles.
But staying healthy is not only good for your pocketbook—it’s in the insurance company’s best interest as well. Your medical history is like your credit report. If you have a late payment or other signs of financial trouble, you may have higher interest rates and have to pay more fees. When you have a poor medical history, doctors may order more tests and procedures to verify and confirm their diagnosis. Depending on the kind of health insurance plan you have, you may end up paying quite a bit out of pocket.
Insurance incentives for healthy living
If you need a little more incentive to maintain a healthy lifestyle, know that you may be entitled to a preferred health discount from your insurance company. The healthier you are, the lower your premium can be. Both life and disability insurance, including long-term care insurance, offer preferred health discounts. Ask your broker what kinds of discounts are available to you.
Some insurance companies offer benefits to help you get your health on track. For example, depending on the carrier and your health insurance plan, you may be able to get your gym membership fees reimbursed if you can show you used the gym’s services a certain number of times in a six-month period.
I’ve also seen online programs offered by insurance carriers to help you learn healthy eating habits or get involved with fitness programs and to help you earn incentives for maintaining your health. Talk to your insurance agent. You may also be able to get your health insurance premium reduced for such healthy habits as not smoking or reducing your blood pressure.
Health and life, disability, and long-term care insurance policies
Your health can also affect life insurance, disability insurance, and long-term care insurance. These policies all have different underwriting processes. Life insurance underwriters look at medical issues that will cause death, like cancer and heart disease. Disability and long-term care insurance underwriters are concerned with diseases and disorders like back problems, neurological and emotional disorders, and respiratory issues that may limit your mobility but that don’t necessarily have an imminent threat of death.
When looking at your case, the underwriters for these types of insurance policies will look at the diagnosis, when you were diagnosed, and how serious the treatment will be. If your insurance application is approved, carriers may still surcharge you for being a high-risk insured.
Bottom line, you already know that there are healthy habits you can take up to improve your lifestyle. The next step is discussing with a medical professional how you can make these beneficial changes. With your healthy lifestyle in place, you can then talk to your insurance agent about how that might affect your health insurance and the rest of your insurance portfolio.