Guest Blogger – Bob Merriam, Sr. HR Business Partner
People inherently have a goal of being healthy– right? At the same time employees want good jobs and satisfying personal lives without spending a ton on employee benefits. Employers want reliable, productive employees whose good health is actually an asset verses a drain. Yet when health is an issue, how much of the burden should an employee bear? Should an employer shoulder any of the load? Who should pay and how much to get an employee healthy and to keep him/her that way?
Let’s look at one of America’s primary risk factors – obesity. A staggering 65% of Americans are considered obese. Besides the obvious drawbacks, obesity can lead to other serious medical problems such as diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and high blood pressure. The cost of treating these conditions is so high that some employers have provided financial incentives to entice their workers to get fitter and lose the weight. In theory, healthier workers result in lower medical insurance premiums. In one such program, Michelin Tire offered up to $1,000/year/employee to motivate their staff to get healthy. They found, however, that employees treated this payment as free money and saw no obligation to adopt healthier lifestyles. This experience lead Michelin and other like organizations ( CVS & Honeywell to name two ) to reexamine the goal of the program.
In 2013 Michelin adopted their “Healthy Results“ program which measures each employee’s health on five factors ( blood pressure, glucose, waistline, & 2 others) and will only reward an employee at risk if s/he “proactively manages at least three of the five factors.“ For at risk employees, failing to manage at least 3 of the risk factors results in a forfeit of up to $1,000/year. There is an out. Employees in need are encouraged to seek professional assistance to help them actively manage these conditions, if necessary. When employees demonstrate they are taking the necessary steps to manage their own health, they become eligible for financial incentives.
Programs like Michelin’s are not only legal, they are now encouraged through the U. S. Affordable Care Act. This year’s cap of limiting penalties to 20% of premium will rise to 30% in 2014.
Whoa, say employees. What about the privacy of my confidential health information – how is that going to be protected? Where’s the fairness in singling out employees with health problems for penalties? Isn’t that discriminatory? Additionally some of the measures used to measure wellness, such as Body Mass Index are questionable. Also, factors beyond an employee’s control may be in play and may pre-dispose a person to certain ailments. How about focusing on businesses who benefit from government subsidies but produce much of the junk food that causes obesity? Let’s not overlook the political element either; many of the companies producing the junk food are some of the biggest contributors to Congress.
Yes, these are all points to be considered says Helen Darling, President of the National Business Group on Health, but there’s no avoiding the fact that 80% of healthcare costs are generated by only 20% of the population, yet 100% of us bear these expenses – not just the 20% that causes them.
So, what is the right balance between expecting employees to take personal responsibility for their health and penalizing them if they don’t? Do you think it’s right for employers to get involved in your personal health? Who should pay the piper for the chance to dance?