Corporate News

Healthy Living: Lifestyle Choice or Company Policy?

If someone asked you if the company you worked for monitored your health and fitness, and was secretly trying to promote healthy living, what would your response be? Yes? No? Not sure? Well, recent polls show companies are doing just that.

Soon, CVS employees will need to report their weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels, or risk heavy fines.

A recent survey of 800 large and mid-size employers (with a combined total of approximately seven million employees), conducted by the human resources firm Aon Hewitt, showed an increasing number of employers use incentives to promote healthy living. For example, the pharmaceutical giant CVS Caremark announced earlier this month that its employees would need to submit to a medical exam to record their weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol level, or pay a $600 fine. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

In the companies surveyed, approximately 83 percent offer incentives for good health and fitness.  Seventy-nine percent of them used a rewards program, such as a lower health premium, for employees who made healthy living choices. Of those who offer incentives, 56 percent require employees to participate in health programs, like completing questionnaires about their health or attending health coaching classes. Twenty-four percent offer incentives for a progress toward particular goal, like attainment of a weight or a measure of blood pressure, and approximately two-thirds of the companies surveyed say they are considering moving towards this policy in the next five years.

This is no big surprise. In light of the new Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, companies can begin using a larger percentage of worker healthcare premiums towards incentive programs in 2014. That’s all the incentive most companies need to promote healthy living. Some companies, such as Walmart and Pepsico, have taken even bigger steps: charging workers for smoking in an effort to get them to quit.

Some employees have raised privacy suits against the companies, saying that these sorts of incentives might promote healthy living, but invade their personal lives. Several have even tried to say such programs violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the lawsuits have failed to gain any standing in the courts.

Others, mainly health professionals, question whether the incentives programs really work–not for promoting healthy living, but for cutting costs. A recent study of the workplace wellness program put in place by BJC HealthCare in St. Louis showed that the incentive program reduced some hospitalization numbers, but increased others, and so saved the company no money.

Whether the programs will pay off in the long run is still up in the air. However, one thing is certain: because of changing laws and regulations, employers everywhere will most likely start making it corporate and company policy to promote healthy living.

About the author

Chase H. Williams

Chase H. Williams is a writer, serial entrepreneur, professional procrastinator, dreamer, explorer and risk taker. He’s been weightless aboard a NASA C9-B aircraft and his head hasn’t quite come back down from the clouds. Visit his website @ chasewritescopy.com