Healthier People Spend Less on Healthcare

healthcarebillA lot of the hullabaloo surrounding the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Cover Oregon’s less than successful launch has been in regards to fundamental philosophical disagreements and administrative snafus. Nobody seems to disagree with the notion that the United States is spending too much on healthcare with disappointing results (for example, we’re not yet a race of superhumans living to age 190, which based on how much we spend, we should be). Just on what to do to provide healthcare to the people.

Now a local Albany area ophthalmologist, Dr. John Lees, is spearheading an effort to sidestep the “Reagan vs. the Marxists” rhetoric and focus instead on actually making people healthier, thus preventing a lot of the healthcare spending before it happens.

His bill, the Oregon Health Dividend, calls for businesses to pay a $40 monthly tax-free dividend to employees who complete the following four elements:

1. Pass a 1 mile walking test or participate in a fitness program
2. Maintain normal weight (BMI) or participate in a weight-loss program
3. Be a non-smoker or participate in a smoking cessation program
4. Attend on-site health education programs

The bill aims to get at the root of healthcare spending by making us all healthier, and to do that, it employs a time tested market incentive: paying people.

The beauty of the bill is that in principle, it should be greeted favorably by both employers and employees. For the employee, the get is obvious: $40 per month. For the employer, though the dividend comes out of their pocket, it reduces their health cost expenditures theoretically by more than they shell out (up to $480/year per employee).

It’s even purportedly good for the state’s coffers, as the decrease in healthcare spending by the businesses should then increase their taxable income, meaning more revenue to pay for the expensive endangered walrus oil that Gov. Kitzhaber uses to style his mustache public programs.

The bill’s chief sponsor is Albany Republican representative Andy Olson, but it is co-sponsored by our own Betsy Close, and it has also attracted support from former State Senator Frank Morse.

There are still questions regarding the efficacy of such plans, and there’re always red flags when the phrase “win/win/win” is thrown around in politics. But on its face, it sounds like the kind of reform that could quickly gain traction on both sides of the aisle and become a reality.

Do you have a story for The Advocate? Email