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Lawmakers looking to make healthy lifestyles pay off

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THE GAZETTE

DENVER · Health insurance rates could go down by as much as 10 percent thanks to a bipartisan effort at the state Capitol to boost enrollment in health wellness and prevention programs.

Under House Bill 1012, sponsored by Reps. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and Joe Rice, D-Littleton, health insurance companies would be allowed to offer discounts and other incentives if customers enroll in basic wellness programs that help them lower their cholesterol, quit smoking, manage stress, and the like. Those savings could add up to as much as 10 percent, said a spokesman for the Colorado State Association of Health Underwriters.

Steve Dodder, a wellness adviser for CSAHU, said 10 percent in savings would be a "reasonable" expectation, but that the actual amount would vary from provider to provider.

The only reason companies don't offer such incentives already, said Rice, is because they can't: insurance firms are legally prohibited from basing their rates on enrollment in wellness and prevention programs.

"This is one of those common sense ideas that we're wondering why we didn't do long ago," Rice said.

A large part of the benefit won't only be for individuals, Stephens added. She was turned on to the bill after fielding dozens of complaints from small business owners in her district who all said they were watching their premiums skyrocket. This is one way, she said, to help keep those prices from getting too high.

"This bill, I think, is going to be a boon for small business," Stephens said during a committee hearing.

The parameters of the bill are largely undefined, however, and just what constitutes a wellness plan is mostly left up to the providers to determine. Still, Dodder said such programs have proven their worth.

"It's definitely going to help reduce health care costs," said Dodder. He cited a study which found wellness and prevention steps help increase productivity and morale while slashing the number of sick days employees take.

According to the same study, performed by Inc.com, employers typically save $1.65 for each dollar spent on wellness programs.

That doesn't mean, however, that the bill is any kind of magic bullet, said Tony Gagliardi, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. While he called the bill a good "first step," he warned that it could be a few years before any businesses or individuals see a reduction in their premiums.

"Are we going to see rates come down? Probably not. But we have to do something to decrease the upwards pressure on businesses," Gagliardi said.

The bill gained unanimous support from the House Committee on Business Affairs and Labor on Wednesday, and now heads to the full House for consideration and possible amendments.


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