TECA Tip: Workers Wellness Can Turn a Profit


January 6th, 2012

Posted by Glenn Levar, CEO and Founder of Shared Time Human Resources Management

Insurers offer incentives for health and penalize workers who can't meet goals, raising questions of fairness.

Employers are moving beyond small rewards and dangling large health insurance discounts or penalties in front of employees who must prove they can lose weight or reach other wellness measures.

Even Medicare is getting into the incentives game, now offering elderly who are obese free initial counseling and a six-month extension if they lose 6.6 pounds.

UnitedHealth is selling large employers on plans that can give workers $600 annual premium discounts if they take screenings and later meet targets for weight, blood pressure and other measures.

The rapidly expanding premium cuts and rewards please employers seeking caps on health costs, and those in the expanding "wellness" industry. But they also raise fairness issues among consumer groups, who fear insurers acting like doctors and employers controlling private lives.

One of the fastest-growing categories of new insurance includes significant penalties for those who don't participate or backslide on targets — penalties that may include deductible spikes or loss of health-savings accounts.

Even with premium discounts as "incentives", opponents say a break for those who meet health targets amounts to a penalty for everyone who doesn't. They see that as a reversal of 2010 health reform prohibitions on insurers discriminating against the sick.


"It's a great thing when employers offer proactive health and wellness programs for their workers — but they should be voluntary," said Dede de Percin, director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, which represents hundreds of thousands of employees through unions, nonprofits and policy groups.

"Employers taking punitive approaches to trying to change staff behavior risk becoming Big Brother in terms of monitoring employee behavior, as well as edging toward discrimination in hiring, promotion and retention," she said.  December 25, 2011 Michael Booth, The Denver Post

Mr. Levar can be reached at grlevar@sthrm.com. His website is www.sthrm.com