Healthy beneficiaries cost Medicare less money, so the federal healthcare provider may want to consider offering memberships to fitness clubs in order to encourage seniors to live healthier lifestyles, according to a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers from Brown University report that many private health insurance plans have managed to design coverage that attracts the healthiest patients and strives to keep them healthy. However, Medicare strictly forbids any type of practices that deny coverage based on existing conditions. The researchers still believe a fitness plan could be worked out.
"Offering a fitness membership does not mean that you are denying people coverage, but you are changing your benefits to appeal selectively to people who are healthy," said the report's co-author Amal Trivedi, a Brown public health professor and a physician at the Providence VA Medical Center. "Policymakers intended for Medicare Advantage plans to compete on the basis of improving quality and reducing costs, rather than on their ability to attract healthier patients. What we found in the study is that offering coverage for fitness membership is a very effective strategy to attract a much healthier population."
The report is based on data collected from thousands of patients in 22 Medicare Advantage plans. Approximately 11 of these "case" plans had added fitness club memberships in 2004 or 2005 and 11 "control" plans that did not. In comparing the self-reported health of the seniors who were enrolled in each plan, researchers noted that seniors who used the benefit reported improved health.
It is well-known that exercise can have major health benefits. The National Institute on Aging even calls it the closest thing to the "fountain of youth." While doctors "prescribe" exercise to treat conditions ranging from arthritis to cancer, little has been known about why moving around and getting the heart pounding is good for overall health.
A recent study by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston found that the health benefits may be caused by a hormone in the muscle cells that triggers some of the health benefits of exercise. This hormone serves as a chemical messenger that has "powerful effects" on fatty tissue in the body.
In addition to solving what has been somewhat of a mystery, finding this hormone may open up more opportunities for novel treatments to diabetes, obesity and perhaps other diseases like cancer, the study reports.