State Workers to pay premium for obesity, other health risks

By Cody Holyoke - bio | email

Montgomery, Al. (WSFA) -- It's a problem that affects a large percentage of the population.  Stress, poor eating habits, and--sometimes--heredity can wreak havoc on your health.

"The average American is not healthy.  I don't care what age you are.  If you get to 105, there's nothing saying that you don't have one ailment wrong with you," said Geneva Thomas, a worker with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The problem is critical in Alabama, now the second most obese state in the country.

With the title comes a heavy burden.

The state is racing to curb the numbers, requiring all government employees to have a health screening.

However, if the doctor finds high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar or an overweight body mass index (or BMI), the state would make employees pay $25 a month for health insurance.

Most pay nothing right now.

"Our main concern here is that we invest in the employees and make all the employees aware of the risk factors they have," explained William Ashmore of the Alabama State Employees' Insurance Board.

The state has done this type of thing before, requiring a premium for smokers.

Many state workers say adding a premium for a "controllable habit" is fine, but when you throw genetics in the mix, they say charging for a sometimes unavoidable condition just isn't right.

"There are a lot of us that have health problems that's causing us to be overweight.  It's not something that we've just decided to become fat," exclaimed Jayne Stinson, a worker for the Alabama Department of Revenue.

Still, the state will offer help to people at risk and even remove the fee for workers trying to get back on track.

Some employees say the program couldn't come soon enough.

"I think its a good idea, actually.  It helps people keep their weight down, and it helps keep them in shape," exclaimed Kimberly Perry, a worker for the Alabama Department of Revenue.

It's a concept administrators hope will loosen Alabama's ranking as one of the country's heaviest states.

"We're simply trying to help individuals find the risks that they have, then provide the means for them to go do something about it," Ashmore said.

Starting in January, the state will pay for the free health screenings throughout next year.

The premium would go into effect in January of 2010.