Should Insurance Companies Incentivize Volunteerism Through Premium Discounts? (by Karin Haag)

KarinPublicWritingThe Research Question:

In addition to building a community and helping the needy, volunteering can create health benefits, both physical and psychological, for the individuals who donate their time.  Based on this, should insurance companies incentivize volunteerism through premium discounts?  Keeping people healthy by encouraging volunteerism would not only benefit the insurance companies (fewer claims), but also employers (lower premiums).

 The Public Writing:

Stephen J. Hemsley

Chief Executive Officer and President, UnitedHealth Group Incorporated

Dear Mr. Hemsley:

My name is Karin Haag.  I’m a forty-something-year-old wife and mother, who lives and works in West Linn, Oregon, a suburb of Portland.  Recently, I decided to return to college to get my degree, and that is why I am writing to you now.

I’ve been reviewing the UnitedHealth Group website as part of a term project.  In doing so, I found myself very impressed with the many programs and initiatives that your company has undertaken with the goal of creating happier people and a better world.  Of primary interest was the “Do Good Live Well” study that UnitedHealthcare put together with VolunteerMatch.  I had never realized what an impact volunteerism could have on an individual’s health!  It definitely gives me another reason to donate my time as often as I can.

As I continued to look through the website, I made note that the effects of volunteerism appear to be well understood as it is highly encouraged within your company.  It would seem that many of the UnitedHealth personnel are enjoying the improved physical and psychological effects of this kind of work, which no doubt translates to fewer sick days, less absenteeism, and an improved sense of purpose.

Once I had gone through all of this information, an idea started to form: if giving time to a cause makes people happier, and happy people tend to be healthier, wouldn’t it be a great thing to encourage your customers to volunteer by incentivizing them in some way?  My thought is that a discount on their health care premium would give people a boost to start volunteering their time, or increase the amount of time that they already volunteer.  And because this service time aids in their overall well-being, it could cut health care costs.

I am sure this is something that has already been considered within the industry, so I am very interested in your thoughts and what conclusions have been drawn thus far.  Please feel free to contact me at the above address or through my e-mail below to discuss further.


Karin Haag


The Research Collection:

Do Good Live Well Study: Reviewing the Benefits of Volunteering. Study. UnitedHealthcare and

VolunteerMatch, Mar. 2010. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <


Summary: Collaborative report by UnitedHealthcare, a UnitedHealth Group business, and VolunteerMatch, a national nonprofit dedicated to volunteerism, based on an on-line survey of volunteers and their states of health as well as the benefits that they perceive as a result of their service.

Opinion: The report is full ofgraphs and statistics, which are interesting, but a little dry.  It would be a good item to look up said statistics, but there’s not a lot of personality.  It definitely gives a starting place for an argument towards volunteerism improving the health and well-being of individuals who volunteer.


The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research. Issue Brief. Corporation for

National & Community Service, 7 May 2007. Web. 18 Nov. 2012.


Summary: Issue brief put out by the Corporation for National & Community Service outlining findings and implications of volunteering on people’s health.  The report cites multiple studies to back up the final conclusions.

Opinion: This isa more in-depth account of how volunteerism could benefit the actual health of a person.  There are several sections that would help feed the argument that insurance companies could benefit themselves by encouraging volunteerism through incentive programs.

McClinmon, Tim. “Does Volunteering Deserve a Tax Credit?” CSR Now! American Express, 6

Feb. 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. <;.

Summary: Blog posting by Tim McClimon, vice president for corporate social responsibility at American Express and president of the American Express Foundation.  Mr. McClimon starts by citing an article by Peter Funt (syndicated columnist and son of Candid Camera’s Alan Funt) proposing that the U.S. government give volunteers a tax credit in exchange for their service.  Mr. McClimon then briefly expounds upon both pro and con arguments from other sources (Volunteer Hub, Time Moneyland, Corporation for National and Community service, and winds up posing the questions “Should the U.S. (or any other country) offer tax incentives for volunteering? Would tax incentives lead to increased volunteering or decreased monetary contributions or neither?”

Opinion: This article is a good starting place for the argument of the benefits of volunteerism on individuals’ health.  It cites several sources, which lead to more substantial arguments, mostly for, but also against, offering incentives for volunteer time.

United Nations. State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2011.Universal Values for Global Well-

            being. N.p.: United Nations Publications, 2011. United

Nations, 5 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2012.


Summary: Large report by member of the United Nations documenting the roles and benefits of volunteers in the 21st century.

Opinion: The sections that talk about how volunteerism plays vital roles in building cohesive societies and creating fulfillment in people’s lives are very convincing.  This report can be used to give examples about how volunteerism benefits the community (locally and globally).


One comment

  1. Candace Bergam

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Your research question is excellent as is your research collection. I connected with your piece because I recently researched whether or not volunteering has health benefits, and if so, what they are. The research shows that volunteering offers many health benefits to everybody, so I think that your research question is incredibly relevant. Why don’t health insurance companies offer incentives for volunteering? Your writing is excellent because it is clear and concise. Your understanding of context and audience, disciplinary conventions, and control of syntax and mechanics are exemplary. The only thing that I would say is that adding statistics and evidence in your letter would have made for an even stronger, compelling argument. Thank you for your time and research and for sharing your excellent writing.

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