Should Insurance Pay You To Exercise?

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If exercise helps improve our health and reduce medical costs, shouldn't insurance plans help reimburse us for joining a gym or taking an exercise class?

Absolutely, says a recent editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that calls on both Medicare and private insurance plans to help older adults offset some of the cost of exercising for their health.

The editorial's author, an expert in geriatric research with the University of Florida, sees it as a win-win deal, particularly for older Americans.

Studies have shown that older adults -- and particularly those with diabetes -- will incur lower health care costs simply by visiting a health club two or more times a week. They become healthier and, subsequently, cost the health care system less.

Marco Pahor, MD, author of the editorial and chair of the university's department of aging and geriatric research, writes that research over the past decades clearly supports the health benefits of exercise and physical activity. He calls on "public policy makers to consider structured exercise and physical activity programs as worthy of insurance reimbursement to promote health, especially in high-risk populations."

Pahor points out that older adults who visited a health club two or more times per week over two years incurred $1,252 less in health care costs in the second year than those who visited a health club less than once per week.

To encourage people to exercise more, some private insurance plans offer monthly membership at participating fitness centers at reduced or no extra cost, or exercise classes at a discount, Pahor notes.

But, he writes, "under the original Medicare plan, no specific reimbursement is provided for any type of physical activity or physical exercise program." Given the health benefits that exercise can provide to those with type 2 diabetes, "it may be time to consider insurance reimbursement for structured physical exercise programs."

So, what do you think? Should Medicare or private insurers help you pay for an exercise class if it can make you healthier?

Photo credit: Mistas via flickr

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