Daily Show Asks Why the AHA Killed a Bill Encouraging Healthy Behavior

The Daily Show, Comedy Central’s brilliant parody of TV News, wants to know why the American Heart Association (AHA), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) apparently ganged up to kill legislation that would have rewarded healthy behavior.

In a segment entitled How a Bill Doesn’t Become a Law, Daily Show correspondent/comedian Wyatt Cenac reported on the death of H.R. 3472, a bill introduced in 2009 by then representative Kathy Dahlkemper that would have provided health insurance premium discounts of up to 20% for healthy behaviors relating to smoking, blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar.

Cenac reported that despite initial widespread support– “Democrats liked it as preventative care, Republicans liked its low cost”– the bill was killed because of opposition from the ACS, AHA, and ADA. Cenac’s summary: “so the groups that encourage people to exercise… are the same ones that opposed this bill encouraging exercise?”

Dahlkemper, who was not re-elected in 2010, said that the groups opposed the legislation because “some of the people they represent can’t make lifestyle changes to have a healthier life.” (A different and more detailed explanation from the AHA can be read at the bottom of this story.)

A Washington lobbyist told Cenac that to obtain their support groups like the AHA need to feel the legislation is “in their self-interest.” As a general rule, said the lobbyist, “giving everybody a taste of the business is a good idea.” The lobbyist agreed with Cenac that this was also a mafia principle, a concept which Cenac took a step further with a parody of The Godfather.

Naturally enough, the AHA disagrees with the Daily Show perspective, and provided me with a statement in response. (I would like to commend the AHA for their restraint, considering that at one point in the segment Cenac was dressed in an AHA-style heart costume smoking a cigarette!)

Here is the AHA statement:

Last night, The Daily Show featured a segment that portrayed the American Heart Association as working against Bill 3472, which was described as providing incentives through health care premiums for people who exercise.  We appreciate the focus the show placed on promoting health in the workplace.  In fact, the Bill describes health behavior as not smoking, having low blood pressure (within the normal range), a body mass index (BMI) in the normal range, and appropriate cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

The AHA is a strong supporter of comprehensive wellness and health promotion programs that address each of these health indicators and we support incentives to participate in these programs.  While effective as comedy, the piece was inaccurate in portraying the bill and why we are opposed to this kind of legislation.  This bill might open the door for discrimination of people with pre-existing conditions, and also those who are genetically predisposed to these conditions. Most importantly it would restrict access to healthcare to those who need it most and research has shown that this has a negative effect on health.

Once again, we support comprehensive health promotion programs and efforts that move the population toward healthier behaviors.  We are also working hard to assure access to affordable, quality health care for all.


  1. This bill was just exactly what private companies are trying to do with their employees, threatening them with higher premiums if they don’t get with the program and live “healthy” lives. And not to worry, this plan already made it into the new health care bill, so the insurance companies are covered. No need to worry about them.

    An Aon Hewitt survey released in June found that almost half of employers expect by 2016 to have programs that penalize workers “for not achieving specific health outcomes” such as lowering their weight, up from 10 percent in 2011

    The programs have until now met little resistance in the courts. The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevents workers from being discriminated against on the basis of health if they’re in a group health insurance plan. But HIPAA also allows employers to offer wellness programs and to offer incentives of up to 20 percent of the cost for participation.

    President Barack Obama’s big health care reform, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will enable employers beginning in 2014 to bump that difference in premiums to 30 percent and potentially up to 50 percent.

  2. I will admit I am not extremely familiar with HR 3472, but from what I have learned, the bill would not impose any penalty for not meeting the standards set forth in the bill for the premium discounts, it would simply reward those who have met these standards by lowering their healthcare premiums. There are two reasons why such a policy is logical. Firstly we should be rewarding those who make an effort to be healthier, and put less of a strain on the healthcare industry. Secondly, it makes complete sense that those who live healthier lifestyles, and thus less likely to require health care for certain conditions, should not have to pay as much in healthcare premiums as those who do not make the same choices, and are thus more likely to require their healthcare insurance to cover medical expenses directly relating to unhealthy lifestyle choices. Again, this bill is in no way punishing those who do not meet the standards set forth in the bill to qualify for the premium discounts, they are no worse off than they were before the bill would have been enacted; it simply rewards those who make healthier lifestyle choices.

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