Americans will endure insurers' tests, monitoring for lower premiums

Many Americans are willing to undergo medical tests and lifestyle monitoring by insurers in exchange for lower premiums, according to a recent Harris Interactive /HealthDay poll, even if that means releasing genetic information or letting insurers track their exercise sessions.

Harris polled 2,033 adults online and found 49 percent were "very willing" to take genetic tests to measure their risks of developing cancer and other illnesses if their health plan provided a financial incentive. But only 28 percent said they'd attend a health class or keep a diet and exercise log.

Three-quarters of respondents would agree to blood pressure checks, while 68 percent were willing to take blood sugar or cholesterol tests. Fewer were willing to change lifestyle behaviors: Just over half said they'd participate in an insurer-monitored exercise class. And only about 38 percent would change their eating habits to reduce blood pressure or cholesterol. These findings may be connected to reports of widespread obesity in the United States, which is predicted to affect 113 million Americans by 2022.

The results raise ethical questions: Is it fair for insurers to subject customers to intrusive or genetic testing when they may not understand how the results will be used? And when do healthy lifestyle incentives become coercive?

These questions are important in light of a final rule by the U.S. Departments of Health & Human Services, Treasury and Labor requiring insurers to offer members with employer-sponsored health insurance significantly lower premiums for participating in wellness programs--regardless of whether they actually improve their health.

"All such monitoring and testing would have to be, and be seen to be, strictly voluntary," said Harris Poll Chairman Humphrey Taylor. "Any suggestion that pressure was being put on people to participate would be disastrous."

Still, Taylor added "this survey shows that there is a substantial opportunity for health plans to test and monitor the health status and health risk behaviors of health plan members, but that they would have to be extremely careful to avoid a potentially explosive backlash."

For more:
- here's the poll results (.pdf)

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