Employers Use Stick-And-Carrot Approach For Wellness Programs

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Some employers are "wielding a stick as well as a carrot" byencouraging workers to "kick unhealthy habits" and enroll in employeewellness programs or contribute more to their health care costs, the Wall Street Journalreports. In most states, people with health conditions who are enrolledin individual insurance plans already pay higher premiums, while"federal law dictates that all workers covered under the same plan mustpay the same premium irrespective of their health," according to the Journal.

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However, recent legislation has allowed some exceptions to the rulethrough the use of wellness programs. Now, employees at some companieswho have unhealthy behaviors or risk factors -- such as obesity, highcholesterol or smoking -- will pay more for health care if they do notparticipate in supplementary wellness programs offered by employers."In extreme cases, employees' deductibles could rise by $2,000," the Journal reports.

According to the Journal,smaller employers --"who are the most at risk from rising health costs-- have gone the furthest in forcing unhealthy employees to pay morefor insurance, as they struggle to continue providing coverage." TomParry, president of the Integrated Benefits Institute,said, "The bottom line is that employers want to see results." However,the "stick" approach could be risky and make employers the target oflawsuits for "meddling in workers' lifestyles," the Journal reports. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is looking into the programs to determine whether they sometimes violate the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to the Journal (Knight, Wall Street Journal, 12/4).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily HealthPolicy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The HenryJ. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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