Should vegetarians get cheaper health insurance?


The Business Journal reports that PETA has asked Mtka-based UnitedHealth, one of the country's largest health insurance companies, to incentivize meat-free diets:

PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a news release that the "range of serious diseases linked to eating meat and dairy products adds up to a huge financial toll."

"By encouraging policyholders to go vegetarian, UnitedHealth Group would save on claims, employers would see less absenteeism because of illnesses related to the consumption of meat and dairy products, and policyholders would avoid high premiums," Reiman said.

Some major insurers already offer discounts for healthy behaviors (providing discouned gym memberships, etc.) but the move into regulating dietary choices seems fraught with controversy/logisitcal challenges. According to the Journal, the ADA's official position is that vegetarian diets are "healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." But many dieticians stress that those on meat-free, and especially vegan diet,s must be sure they are getting adequate protein, calcium, iron, and other vitamins found in animal products. While food choices undeniably have a large impact on overall health, how would diets be monitored? Is there a way to tell if supposed vegans have been sneaking a burger now and then, and, if so, will health insurance customers be asked to pee in cups and submit to random "meat tests"?

The Journal reports that, so far, UnitedHealth hasn't offered a public response:

UnitedHealth spokeswoman Lynne High declined to comment specifically on PETA's letter. But she said the insurer is already a proponent for providing incentives for people to become more engaged in their health.