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Covering Gym Fees Might Be Money Saver for Medicare
Date:1/11/2012

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Paying the gym-membership fees of seniors joining private Medicare supplemental insurance plans -- which by law cannot deny coverage based on illness -- attracts healthier adults, potentially saving the U.S. insurer money, a new study suggests.

Analyzing 22 Medicare Advantage plans, including half that added fitness club memberships and half that didn't, Brown University researchers found that plans with fitness benefits had 6 percent more seniors who reported being in excellent or very good health. The number of new enrollees in such plans reporting activity limitations was 10.4 percent lower, and those reporting difficulty walking was 8.1 percent lower than in plans not offering gym memberships.

"Insurance companies are at risk for paying for all covered services, so there's a strong financial incentive to enroll people who are healthy rather than those who are sick," said study co-author Dr. Amal Trivedi, an assistant professor of health services, policy and practice at Brown.

"Obviously, covering gym memberships costs money, so there's a calculus between [that] versus attracting healthier enrollees," Trivedi added. "What this suggests is that offering gym memberships is an attractive business proposition."

The study is published Jan. 12 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Medicare is the U.S. government's health insurance program for people 65 and older. Medicare Advantage plans, which are administered by private insurers approved by Medicare, offer coverage for extra services such as vision, hearing, dental and/or prescription drugs. The plans must accept all applicants, but individual premiums are risk-adjusted based on pre-existing medical conditions. Sicker applicants, therefore, pay higher premiums than healthier ones.

Coverage of fitness clubs jumped significantly in the past decade. Lo
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