Amidst the sweeping surge of weight gain coupled with the rising cost of health insurance, the state of Alabama has devised a plan of urgency to address these issues – taxing overweight employees who don’t take adequate measures to improve their health within a year. Beginning in 2010, Alabama will be the first state to tax overweight employees primarily because it has the second highest obesity rate of 30.0% according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Mississippi has the largest obesity rate). Alabama is not alone in its plan to fine overweight workers; this year, a hospital chain in Indiana, Clarian, will withdraw $10 from the paychecks of overweight employees who yield poor signs of improvement. One of the motives behind this tax policy is that overweight employees’ trips to the doctor exceed those of their counterparts, yet they pay the same amount in insurance premiums. Not to add, increased doctor visits cause insurance premiums to rise for all. More importantly, obese and overweight employees are vulnerable to illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes and in turn have a shorter life expectancy. So the insurance tax penalty will combat this dilemma by charging overweight employees who make little or no effort to improve their wellness.
The new tax policy in Alabama initiated by the executive director of the Alabama State Employees’ Insurance Board William Ashmore will work as follows: Companies will offer continuous workplace health screenings to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, and body mass index. Employees who have a body mass index of 35 or more will be given a year to modify their lifestyles in terms of consulting a doctor and engaging in fitness programs. If the results of the follow-up screening fail to signify considerable progress, the employee will pay $25 extra per month in health insurance in 2011.
It has come to this because American society uses money to get across to people. While fines work a lot of times, they are also seen as punitive. In a way, this tax policy will cause the role of employers to resemble that of highway patrol officers. Just as highway patrol officers ticket drivers who exceed the speed limit, employers will fine overweight employees who exceed body fat limits. A debate also rises in that some overweight employees will find the tax insulting, invasive, and discriminating.
Above all, the state’s defense is that taxing overweight employees will not only bring awareness to the rising health and financial costs, but is an action plan to solving obesity and related health issues along with reducing the excessive spending that brings about financial government deficits, which is relevant during the present economic times. Specifically, William Ashmore reports that Alabama pays 40% more in health insurance costs for overweight employees than their counterparts. Further, it is important for employers to make the message clear that it is not about being thin but about being fit. Employers should also emphasize that overweight employees will not be alone in their efforts to improve their health but will be met with support.
Oppenheim, Noah. “Company Fines Workers for Being Overweight.” MSNBC website.
Winter, Jana. “Alabama Plans to Tax Fat Employees to Recoup Insurance Costs.” Fox News website.