I just read an article that people in Switzerland are voting as to whether doctors can prescribe exercise for physical ailments. The concept here is that if a doctor determines that the source of your chronic illness is due to poor diet and lack of exercise, then the doctor’s prescription would allow health insurance to cover the cost of a gym membership. Gym owners around the country are likely in favor of this since they’re going to receive a massive surge in subsidized gym memberships as a result of this.
Assuming this law passes, I predict it will do nothing positive for the overall health of the society. General gym memberships are pretty affordable even to the lowest socioeconomic class. My LA Fitness membership is only $30 per month. Even with the star up fees, this is a very affordable monthly expense for the vast majority of society. As such, price is likely not the main factor preventing people from exercising.
Unhealthy people who refuse to exercise to the point where they develop chronic illnesses are unlikely to change their lifestyles just because a doctor told them to do so. From elementary school all the way through graduation, children are taught that you should eat fruits and vegetables and to try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. While we can all disagree on the perfect diet or ideal exercise regimen, the concept of eating well and exercising is not foreign to a modern human.
Moreover, exercise does not require a gym. Walking, running, air squats, push ups, pull ups, jumping jacks, jumping rope, and sit ups are free. You could literally do any of those things while you read this article.
This is a classic example of passing a law with the best of intentions that does little to benefit our society. It will line the pockets of the fitness industry at the expense healthcare insurers. While I’m generally not one to voice the plight of the insurance industry, we have to be realistic with what we expect insurance companies to cover. It’s reasonable to expect insurance to cover your diabetes medication or MRI. It’s unreasonable to expect insurance companies to subsidize your gym membership.
Some may argue that insurance companies will save money because more exercise will reduce the need for medication and procedures in the future. Let me remind you of the worst time of the year in the gym: January 2nd. There are millions of people across the nation who make the New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Many of them go to the gym for a few days, clog up the gym for the regulars, and then vanish by January 15th. This phenomenon will be reflected with subsidized gym memberships. The sick patient will go to the gym under doctor’s orders for a while, and then slip back into the lifestyle that resulted in the problems in the first place.
So, how do we cure chronic illnesses related to obesity? Well, that’s a very complex topic. We would need to discuss people’s natural motivation to get and stay fit. We’d also need to discuss our farming and food industries that produce questionable products (RBH in milk may actually be extremely unhealthy). We’d need to discuss our sedentary lifestyles and the problem of corporate jobs that create incentives to sit in one spot all day long.
The answer is complex and likely requires major restructuring of our society. Simply requiring healthcare insurance companies to cover gym memberships won’t change a thing. It’ll only make insurance more expensive for the rest of us.