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As health expenses continue to skyrocket, small steps can reduce costs for drivers

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It’s almost that time of year again when employees around the country must make decisions on healthcare plans for 2019. For those employees, the decision, while difficult at times, is made easier by the fact that their respective companies have already pared down the hundreds of options into a few available plans.

For owner-operators and small fleet owners, getting to that point and finding affordable plan options for either themselves or their employees is not as easy. Between the time spent researching plans and the cost to enroll in those plans – a cost that the owner-operator must bear entirely – health insurance remained a luxury only a percentage could afford.

By now, most are familiar with the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. For some owner-operators and small fleets, the health plan provided a way to finally get that insurance coverage. For others, the mandate to have insurance along with its financial penalty was government overreach.

With Republicans in power, that is beginning to change. The good news: the financial penalty for not having insurance has been removed by the Trump administration, so there is no longer a cost to not having insurance. Even more good news, potentially for some at least, is the current push to remove protections for pre-existing conditions and other lesser used features of the plan that critics say raise the costs for everyone. The Department of Justice announced it would no longer defend court challenges to these requirements, perhaps opening the door for courts to strike down those provisions.

That has the potential to lower costs for some, but also drive up costs for those that rely on some of those features, such as the requirement that plans cover pre-existing conditions. Without that requirement, the potential is there for insurers to charge more for those plans as it shifts more of the cost burden onto those that use the plans. That could put the price of a health exchange plan out of reach for some – if it’s not already.

In a national survey of over 1,600 truck drivers in 2014, FMCSA found that, when compared to the national working population, among truckers, the prevalence of:  

  • obesity is twice as high (69% vs. 31%).

  • morbid obesity is twice as high (17% vs. 7%).

  • current cigarette smoking is more than double (51% vs. 19%).

  • self-reported diabetes is elevated (14% vs. 7%).

The survey also found that a lower percentage of drivers perceived their health status as excellent, very good, or good (84% vs. 94%).

At this point, just the uncertainty in the marketplace is the reason several insurers are citing as reasons for asking for huge premium increases for 2019 plans – up double digits in most areas. In some areas, though, the increases are minimal. Pennsylvania insurance providers have requested premium increases of just under 5%. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says the overall increase will be about 15%. If you have or offer employer plans, those costs are going up as well, about 6% says PwC’s Health Research Institute. No one, it seems, is immune from healthcare cost increases.

It seems the only way to minimize healthcare costs is to not get sick. For truck drivers, that means finding ways to eat healthier on the road and develop routine exercise programs. Doing this can lead to a healthier lifestyle, but it can also provide a financial boost in the form of lower insurance premiums and fewer out-of-pocket costs due to fewer trips to the doctor or clinics.

Rolling Strong is a health and wellness provider that is working to keep truckers healthier, and it has a particular focus on owner-operators. The company just announced a new program with Enrollment First to offer affordable insurance benefits to owner-operators, and to fleets with independent contractors. Enrollment First customers are automatically enrolled in the Rolling Strong health and wellness app. 

“Enrollment First is the first major benefits provider that has embraced our health and wellness program and integrated with us to service owner operators and fleets with independent contractors,” said Stephen Kane, president of Rolling Strong. “This is a breakthrough offering for the industry. Having affordable insurance benefits is important to the wellness of truck drivers and their families. With Enrollment First, we can offer a proactive approach to medical benefits that gives drivers a better chance to adopt a healthy lifestyle.”

Through its partnership with Rolling Strong, Enrollment First will provide choices in insurance products for drivers and fleets. Its health benefits coverage lines offer wellness and preventive visits without a co-pay or deductible. Additional plans in the voluntary portfolio include dental and vision coverage, life insurance, and other options. Under the agreement, Rolling Strong will promote Enrollment First to its platform users and current and new Enrollment First customers will have automatic access to the Rolling Strong health and wellness platform.

Drivers who utilize the Rolling Strong health and wellness app can access exercise programs and nutrition and personal health guidance, including the ability to connect with a wellness coach.

Eating healthier starts with making better choices. Many truck stops are now offering healthier alternatives, but the website The Balanced Careers suggests seeking out pre-washed bags of lettuce, spinach and cut vegetables and fruit and consider using a small, portable grill for grilling meat such as chicken and turkey breasts.

Siphiwe Baleka, a fitness coach, created the Baleka Method, which is an approach designed to conform to each individual. In an interview with Men’s Health, Baleka laid out some of the keys to staying healthy.

1.       Exercise at least 15 minutes per day

2.       Maintain a75% to 85% max heart rate during the workout

3.       Work multiple muscle groups

4.       Always eat after working out

5.       Eat breakfast and several smaller meals throughout the day

6.       Keep healthy snacks nearby

7.       Log your nutrition and fitness.

Since you can’t control insurance premiums, at least try to grab some control of the out-of-pocket costs by improving your health, one workout and one meal at a time.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.