Business Workshop: How to cover weight loss plans

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A new study by Johns Hopkins University finds that a majority of overweight adults believe weight-loss benefits offered by health plans could help them lose weight.

More than 80 percent of the people surveyed said they thought it was a good idea for health insurance to cover weight loss expenses, such as fitness center membership, commercial weight-loss programs and health coaching.

While many large employers include weight loss benefits in their health plan design, small employers may not -- even though, according to the study, about 21 percent of those in the study said they would pay $50 to $99 per year, and about 13 percent said they would pay more than $100 for a weight-loss benefit.

As employers and employees are trying to cut health care costs, offering weight loss benefits -- in addition to other weight-management and wellness programs -- is a challenge for employers.

The answer for many small and large employers may be to offer employees a defined-benefit based health plan. The employer gives employees a defined amount for the health benefit and a menu of health care plans from which to choose from, many of which include weight-management and other wellness programs.

Depending on the plan selected, the employee will pay more or less of the premium. Many health insurers offer the defined-benefit model because it gives employees more choice without raising the cost to the employer.

In a defined-benefit world, it's easy for people to address the specific health needs of their family by choosing a plan design that matches their own financial and health coverage needs.

-- Edward J. Heckert, Jr., UnitedHealthcare, ej_heckert@uhc.com

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Business workshop is a weekly feature from local experts offering tidbits on matters affecting business. To contribute, contact Business Editor Brian Hyslop at bhyslop@post-gazette.com.


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