Firms pump up the wellness
As healthcare costs soar, employers create incentives to keep workers healthy.
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"No matter how you slice it, your employer is still penalizing you for behavior that has nothing to do with your job," he says. "And once you say that it's acceptable for employers to start regulating off-duty behavior, you've created a very dangerous situation."Skip to next paragraph
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Managers regulating employee diets and smoking could open a Pandora's box, argues Mr. Maltby. "People who have many sexual partners are at much higher risk than folks who are monogamously married," he says. "If it's OK to charge someone more for the company medical plan because they smoke, then it's just as fair to charge them more … because they don't practice safe sex."
A company stands firm on smoking
In many regards, Howard Weyers has edged his insurance company (Weyco Inc., now owned by Meritain Health) in that extreme direction, albeit without questioning his staff's love lives. For 15 months, he offered a variety of company-funded smoking-cessation programs, including yoga and acupuncture. After that, he fired anyone who hadn't kicked the habit. Only four of 24 smokers opted to quit their job instead of smoking. Now he no longer hires smokers.
In addition, Mr. Weyers's company healthcare plan does not cover injuries incurred through extreme sports like sky diving, bull riding, or snowmobile racing.
"I'm trying to protect the paychecks of my employees and the bottom line of the company, and I don't want to waste it in the healthcare system," says Weyers, now president of the Meritain Health office in Okemos, Mich. "If the employee wants to jump out of an airplane, that's fine, but it's at [his own] risk."
Though Heather Van Gulick, a senior reporting analyst at Meritain Health, had been trying to quit smoking when Weyers introduced the new policy, it made her want to rebel. "It's just one of those childish things that, as soon as somebody tells you that you can't do something, you're gung ho on doing it," she says. Still, Mrs. Van Gulick decided to seize the opportunity and is now happily a nonsmoker.
Most firms have backed off aggressive wellness policies. Clarian Health, a Midwest hospital group, made headlines last summer when it proposed a policy that would fine employees up to $60 a month for unhealthy practices, including smoking and being overweight. But after employee focus groups, it developed a rewards-based system, eliminating all penalties. Now, 92 percent of the company's 13,000 workers participate and can earn up to $720 a year for staying healthy. "When I heard the rumors of the fine, I felt like, that's kind of crazy," says Sheila Posey, a patient representative at Clarian. But the potential new program spurred her into action. Now she works out daily and has lost almost 40 pounds.