Health Care Schwag

Matt's got a nice post on how health insurers screw the young and why that makes mandated private insurance (a la The New America Foundation, The Century Foundation, and John Breaux) something of a mess. Fun stuff. But hey, here's a sidebar: While explaining his grand plan to attract young, healthy folk and weed out the ill and elderly, Matt mentions the utility of health schwag: free gym memberships, softball teams, that sorta thing. Those, actually, are great ideas. Not just for cherry-picked plans trying to attract young people, but for everyone. If health insurance came with a free fitness center membership and offered incentives for gym attendance, it'd be one of the most cost-effective ways of controlling insurer-side health spending on record.

First, nothing works as well as exercise and weight control to keep folks healthy and avoid disease. Nothing. Similarly, nothing is cheaper. The problem is exercise and diet require commitment, time, unpleasant hours on the treadmill, and a host of other intangibles that people don't often like to give. If health insurers were smart, they'd offer significant discounts to customers who swiped in at the gym more than three times a week. It's a pretty safe bet these folks will be healthier than the rest of the population, and by offering, say, 15% off premiums during each week the 3+ visits are made, insurers would probably motivate many more of their plan users to attend. This, of course, would protect them from a variety of absurdly expensive diseases, and thus keep the insurance company from having to pay for their care. This is already being done by many corporations in order to control their premiums, and sooner or later, health insurers are going to have to follow suit.