Mixed Feelings on Bad Habits, Health Costs

November 17, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - People seem to think that those with unhealthy lifestyles should pay more for their health insurance - but it depends on what you define as unhealthy.

A recent Harris Interactive poll conducted for The Wall Street Journal Online’s Health Industry Edition found that a plurality (46% to 37%) of responding adults said that it would be fair to charge those with unhealthy lifestyles higher premiums than those with healthy lifestyles, and they also favored higher deductibles or co-payments for those individuals as well (by a 47% to 36% margin). Roughly 17% were not sure whether that would be fair or not.

Hard Liners

Men were more likely to draw a hard line than women, according to the poll. More than half (53%) of women said it wouldn’t be fair to charge higher rates for unhealthy lifestyles, compared with just 38% of men. Additionally, it appears that the more education you have, the more likely you are to favor higher charges for unhealthy practices. While just 27% of those with a high school education or less thought the higher charges would be fair, 49% of college grads did, and 57% of those with post-graduate educations said it would be reasonable to do so.

Those margins are tighter than one might expect, perhaps because of a growing awareness that one person’s unhealthy lifestyle is another’s freedom of choice. Smokers fell short of that test, as 58% of survey respondents say they should pay more, as did people who do not wear seat belts (53% said they should pay more for insurance).

On the other hand, those same respondents did not favor higher premiums for those who are overweight (by a 52% to 27% margin), or for those who do not exercise regularly (by an identical 52% to 27% margin).

Life “Styles”

When it came to specific examples of lifestyle behaviors, men were also more likely to favor higher charges for unhealthy behaviors. They favored higher premiums for smokers (63% said it would be fair to do so versus 53% for women), overweight (35% versus 20% of women), seat belt non-wearers (56% versus 50%) and those who do not exercise regularly (33% versus 22%).

Similarly, the educational biases held true as well – an overwhelming 82% of those with post-graduate education favored higher charges for smokers, nearly double the 44% rate of those with high school educations, while 69% of those with postgraduate education favored higher charges for non-seat belt wearers, compared with just 44% of those with high school educations.

The margins persisted, but were narrower when it came to weight and exercise, however. Just 39% of those with post graduate degrees favored higher charges for people who are overweight, and only 42% favored higher charges for people who did not exercise regularly. Those with high school educations or less were opposed to both, with 57% against the former and 56% against the latter.

The survey was conducted online between October 30 and November 3, 2003 among a nationwide sample of 2,231 adults. The results are online HERE