|By Kate Santich, Orlando Sentinel|
In an effort to rein in soaring medical-insurance costs -- now estimated at more than
The most recent example is
Already, 20 percent of firms surveyed impose consequences on employees if they "don't utilize the health-awareness tools the company provides," according to a recent report from human-resources researcher
The shift is drawing fire from patients' rights groups, which consider the policies coercive and a violation of privacy. At
"We have had a lot of discussion about sticks versus carrots," said
"What are people going to be penalized for next?" Siegel said. "Will they ask how many times you go out for fast food each week? Are they going to ask how much people drink? Are they going to ask about sexual behavior? What if an employee is having unsafe sex? It opens the door to asking people all kinds of personal questions that have nothing to do with how well you do your job."
For its part, CVS insists the policy is merely "the most effective way to encourage our colleagues to take control of their own health, reduce risks and manage their costs." Further, chief medical officer Dr.
The information will be handled by a third party, the company said, and not shared with any CVS personnel. Nor will there be penalties for workers whose results reveal health problems.
Patient Privacy Rights, a national bipartisan nonprofit based in
Supporters claim that's far-fetched.
"It would be stupid on so many levels -- for ethical reasons, for business reasons, for legal reasons, for employee relations," Heinen said. "Of course, there is the fear of the technological glitch, and, yes, every once in a while somebody's records get stolen."
Her agency recommends that employers implement more than a single incentive or penalty, but rather a comprehensive wellness strategy. That should include healthy food in the cafeteria and vending machines, a walking program, gym membership subsidies, free filtered drinking water and perhaps time off from work for "health-promoting activity."
Only if incentives fail, she said, should penalties be considered.
"What companies are really trying to do is get people more involved -- to get more skin in the game," she said, "because we are giving our pay raises to the health-care system, and we have been for a long time."
That's because escalating health care costs have outpaced pay hikes. Employees now contribute 42 percent more for health care than they did five years ago.
In many ways, the trend toward penalties began with cigarette smokers, who for years have been charged higher rates on individual health policies before being banned from lighting up on employer property. Starting this month,
"When it was just a matter of charging smokers higher rates, everybody understood that it made economic sense," said sociology professor
While federal law bans employers from discriminating against workers with disabilities, insurance surcharges that penalize workers for unhealthy behavior have yet to be tested in court. Even if they withstand challenges, though, some business leaders say the harm to employee morale may make penalties unsavory in the long run.
For now, two of
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