Study finds Americans willing to get healthy, unwilling to pay for it

CHICAGO Americans may take full responsibility for the fact that health-averse behaviors like smoking or not exercising contribute to greater health costs, but they’re not at all willing to personally bear those increased costs, a new survey from the Vitality Group published Wednesday found.

The survey results underscore the need for health plans to force accountability of those not-healthy lifestyle choices back onto consumers. “The only way to stem these escalating healthcare costs is to help people take action to get healthier or insist they pay for the privilege of lifestyle choices that adversely affect the pocketbooks of others,” stated Art Carlos, chief executive officer of the Vitality Group.

If that kind of argument picks up any kind of steam, it may drive more consumers into self-care aisles for smoking cessation remedies or diet aids even in a weakened economy.

The vast majority of Americans—82 percent—believe that they alone are responsible for their health. But only 56 percent believe they should shoulder those increased costs themselves.

Many respondents believe their or their spouse’s employer should have some responsibility and nearly half think the government should have some responsibility (59 and 46 percent, respectively).

“These results highlight the root cause of the healthcare crisis our nation is currently grappling with,” Carlos said. “We Americans, or rather our lifestyles, lie at the heart of rising medical costs and the problem will not be solved until we are required to take personal accountability for the way we choose to live.”

Citing a study conducted by Hewitt Associates, the Vitality Group found that two-thirds of employers have been moving toward more aggressive wellness and disease management programs for employees. Almost half were offering or planned to offer employees incentives to participate in health initiatives, compared with just 38 percent a year earlier.

The American public is on board too, as long as it doesn’t affect its wallet—when The Vitality Group asked survey respondents about participating in an employer-sponsored wellness program, more than 95 percent said they would participate if they got something out of it—lower healthcare costs, incentives, better health, employer subsidies. Respondents considered the number one benefit of participation in a wellness program to be good health and fitness, followed by cost savings on healthcare.

But Americans still don’t want to pay to get healthy—only four in ten would participate in a wellness program if they had to pay for the program themselves. And, almost two thirds of Americans felt that some people with conditions which increase the use of healthcare should pay more for healthcare. Only 37 percent felt that conditions or illnesses shouldn’t affect how much a person pays for healthcare.

“Despite the fact that people recognize their behavior can impact their healthcare costs, that knowledge obviously isn’t enough to motivate them to action, considering 70 percent of all healthcare costs are attributable to preventable risks and unhealthy choices,” stated Stuart Slutzky, chief marketing officer of The Vitality Group.

The Vitality Group, a member of Discovery Holdings, serves more than 1.5 million members across the United States, United Kingdom and South Africa with its wellness program, called Vitality.

Early corporate adopters in the United States include Alcon, AOL, Aspirus, General Growth Properties and Lenovo. Clients in the United Kingdom and South Africa include Bloomberg, Citibank, Coca-Cola, Dell, Goldman Sachs, IBM, Kraft, McDonalds, Microsoft, MTV, Nike, Oracle and Samsung.

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