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Caring for Your Health and Your Wallet in 2012

By Lisa Zamosky

Here we are at the end of another year. If you’re among those who make New Year’s resolutions related to your health, here’s an incentive to stick with your 2012 plans: Poor health habits are costing you money.

I’ve written before about how more employers today are offering financial incentives, such as lower insurance premiums and cash or gift cards, if you participate in activities like filling out a health risk assessment or agree to take a smoking cessation class.

The stakes are even higher for people who don’t get insurance through their jobs and buy coverage on their own in the private insurance market. After evaluating well over 200,000 average individual health insurance premiums, eHealthInsurance.com, the largest online insurance broker, found that a number of health habits significantly drive insurance prices skyward.

Smoking – Perhaps not surprisingly, if you smoke you can expect your insurance coverage to cost more money. How much more? According to eHealthInsurance.com data based on nearly 275,000 individual major medical policies, women smokers pay 23% more on average for their monthly health insurance premiums than non-smoking women. Men who smoke pay 13% more on average than men who don’t light up.

Being Overweight – Dropping those extra pounds in the New Year will do more than help you fit into your skinny jeans; there’s money to be saved as well. People with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9 tend to pay less for health insurance than people who are overweight.

In fact, the online broker’s analysis of 230,000 individual insurance policies revealed that obese adults pay an average of almost 23% more in monthly insurance premiums compared to people with a BMI in the normal range. When broken down by gender, the survey found that women paid nearly 31% more and men paid just shy of 23% more than people of healthy weight (starting to notice a gender bias trend here?).

Drink Less – Alcohol is a mixed bag; some studies have indicated that moderate drinking can be healthful, while others suggest regular alcohol intake can increase the risk of disease, including various cancers. Insurers know this, which is why when you apply for coverage on the private market, you may be asked about your drinking habits, for example, how much alcohol you drink and how often.  Your monthly premiums could be increased depending upon your answers (which is not an inducement to lie about your alcohol intake, but to start cutting back if it’s excessive).

What health habits are you hoping to change or improve upon in 2012? Share your resolutions and your plans to stick with them in the comments below.

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