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Dems Health Care Proposal Would Kill Successful Prevention Program They Tout

June 12, 2009

If you want a good example of the wide gulf between Democrats’ rhetoric on health care and the real world implications of their policy proposals, you need look no further than the issue of prevention and wellness.

President Obama and Democrats have made cost control central to their health care push, and a key part of their argument has been that we have to encourage people to live healthier lives so they don’t get sick in the first place.

Grocery chain Safeway has been one of the leading success stories on this front, because it’s been able to keep its health care costs flat by providing financial incentives for its employees to be healthier. Obama met with the company’s CEO, Steve Burd, last month and praised the company as being among “the best practitioners of prevention and wellness…in the private sector.”

Under the Safeway program, employees pay less for their health care if they refrain from smoking as well as maintain a reasonable weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol level. This has encouraged workers to drop their bad habits so that they can save money, and as a result Safeway boasts lower obesity and smoking rates than the national average. Burd described the program before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Thursday – and received praise from both Republicans and Democrats.

But there’s one big problem. The current Democratic health care legislation that emerged from the committee this week contains a provision known as “community rating,” a popular feature of many liberal proposals, which bars insurers from charging people higher premiums based on a person’s health status. So in other words, if you’re a marathon runner with ideal health habits, you have to pay more or less the same for health insurance as an obese smoker with heart disease.

When asked in his testimony, Burd acknowledged that if community rating were adopted, Safeway would be unable to continue its program – the very program that Obama and Democrats are holding up as a model for the nation as to how to reduce costs by providing incentives for healthy living.