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3/7/2006 12:50:03 AM

Updated 02/24/06

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‘60 Minutes’ Bypasses Obvious Health Care Solution
Savings accounts would place choice in the hands of employees, end need for company intervention.

By R. Warren Anderson
Free Market Project
Oct. 31, 2005

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CBS’s “60 Minutes” focused on companies becoming a “big brother” to employees, yet ignored an obvious free market alternative – Health Savings Accounts.

     During the October 29 broadcast, correspondent Morley Safer said that “big business is increasingly nosing into your business, trying to cut the costs of their business.” That’s because 50 percent of health care costs come from 5 percent of employees. In order to cut costs, some companies have instituted fitness programs. Safer said that various companies, such as “Quaker Oats, Johnson & Johnson, Honeywell, Motorola and I.B.M. claim to have saved millions after instituting wellness programs.”

     The story focused on Weyco, an employee benefits company, and its aggressive approach toward smoking. Weyco fired any worker who did not stop smoking at the beginning of 2005. Employees were given 15 months to quit, and had company programs to help them stop. Other companies, such as CNN, had a ban on hiring smokers, but Weyco’s decision impacted people who were already employed. 

     Anita Epolito was one who was fired because she didn’t quit smoking. Safer asked her if she tried to quit, and she replied “I'm trying every way to cut down, quit…. I'm trying, yes, on my own but I don't need an employer to do that.”

     Epolito understood the issue better than Safer. She shouldn’t need the company to handle her medical choices. The problem is that with companies paying for health care, they assume the risk of the employees’ behavior. To cut back, employers try to avoid hiring workers who have larger health risks. A solution Safer never discussed would be to place the risk of employees’ behavior in the employees’ hands with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). 

     HSAs are “tax-free savings accounts that can be used to pay for medical expenses incurred by individuals, spouses, or dependents,” according to the White House Web site. They were enacted on December 8, 2003 and roughly 2.4 million employees are eligible according to The Washington Post. Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew E. Altman was quoted in the September 15 Post saying “There absolutely is growing interest in consumer-driven arrangements.” 

     Using programs such as HSA places more responsibility on the individual for their actions. This helps eliminate the need to cut higher health risk individuals for cost purposes, because the individual would cover more of the cost and the company less.


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