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Originally published February 8 2009

Alabama to Start Charging Overweight State Workers $25 More a Month for Health Insurance

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) In an effort to rein in rising health-care costs, Alabama will start charging a fee to overweight workers who do not take part in free wellness programs.

"We are trying to get individuals to become more aware of their health," said Robert Wagstaff of the state insurance board.

An estimated 30.3 percent Alabama residents are considered to be obese, more than any other state but Mississippi.

Currently, health insurance is free for all Alabama state employees except for smokers. Starting in January 2010, however, all employees will be required to take a free yearly health screening. Workers who refuse to participate will be charged $25 per month for their health insurance, on top of any smoking fees.

Workers who are diagnosed with serious weight, blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar problems will be screened again in one year to see if their health has improved. Those who have not shown any improvement will also be charged $25 per month.

In the year between the initial screening and the follow-up, employees will be entitled to see a doctor or enroll in a wellness program at no cost. They can also take any other measures they wish to improve their health.

For the purposes of the program, anyone with a body mass index of 35 or more will be classified as having a weight problem. Health professionals typically consider anyone with a body mass index of 30 or higher to be obese.

Walter Lindstrom, founder of the Obesity Law and Advocacy Center, warned that the program will not be fair if overweight employees are just offered vague advice about eating better and exercising more.

"The state will feel good about itself for offering something," he said, "and the person of size will end up paying $300 a year for the bad luck of having a chronic disease his/her state-sponsored insurance program failed to cover in an appropriate and meaningful fashion."

While some states offer one-time incentives for employees to lose weight, no others penalize overweight workers.

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