“Next Frontier” – Health Plans Covering Yoga?

When a leading benefits consultant writes an article in the Harvard Business Review recommending that health plans should cover yoga, it should be glaringly apparent that we have perverse incentives in U.S. health benefits:

Cigna insurance CEO David Cordani says the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services’ recent payment changes that emphasize quality over quantity in healthcare will shift the focus on “sick care to more well care.” But a widespread embrace of diet, fitness and other wellness programs is still a way off……”

Insurers should cover “new wellness- and prevention-oriented treatments such as yoga and meditation, Sukanya Soderland, a partner in consulting firm Oliver Wyman’s health practice, wrote recently in the Harvard Business Review. (Jayne O’Donnell & Laura Ungar USA Today)

Are we really meant to believe that employees cannot pay for their own yoga classes? Especially as the so-called “Cadillac tax” on high-cost employer-based health plans is going to start sinking its teeth into those plans, why would any employer want to increase the likelihood of incurring that tax liability by channeling more of employees’ compensation in to health plans that pay for benefits like yoga?

A constant theme of this blog is that Obamacare incentivizes insurers to attract the healthy and shun the sick. It looks like it is increasingly happening in employer-based benefits, too.

Comments (3)

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  1. Jimbino says:

    As long as Obamacare mandates coverage of the high costs of normal childbirth, which is not a medical problem, it may as well mandate coverage nonsense like Yoga and Transcendental Meditation. Then it could well cover racquetball, which is of more interest to me.

  2. Devon Herrick says:

    One problem with the idea of employee health plans paying for yoga — or gym memberships — is that the workers who would use them are the employees who need them the least. By contrast, the people who need to hit the gym or plop down on a yoga mat are not likely to do so — even if it’s free.

  3. Bart I. says:

    I think the usual point is that Cigna and others are doing this to try to attract healthy customers, while restricting reimbursement for things like expensive chemotherapy treatments.

    This is often given as a likely consequence of community rating. But I doubt that underwritten insurance would be much different, especially when guaranteed renewal is a requirement.