Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Employers Tie Financial Rewards, Penalties To Health Tests, Lifestyle Choices

From the 2 April 2012 Kaiser article

Once a year, employees of the Swiss Village Retirement Community in Berne, Ind., have a checkup that will help determine how much they pay for health coverage. Those who don’t smoke, aren’t obese and whose blood pressure and cholesterol fall below specific levels get to shave as much as $2,000 off their annual health insurance deductible…

…Gone are the days of just signing up for health insurance and hoping you don’t have to use it. Now, more employees are being asked to roll up their sleeves for medical tests — and to exercise, participate in disease management programs and quit smoking to qualify for hundreds, even thousands of dollars’ worth of premium or deductible discounts.

Proponents say such plans offer people a financial incentive to make healthier choices and manage chronic conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, which are driving up healthcare costs in the USA. Even so, studies of the effect of such policies on lifestyle changes are inconclusive. And advocates for people with chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, fear that tying premium costs directly to test results could lead to discrimination.

Consumer Tips: Workplace Wellness Plans

More and more employers are tying financial reward and penalties to workers completing a set of medical tests. KHN’s Julie Appleby says the tests can include blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Watch the video.
Employee reaction has also been mixed….

..Some workers complain the programs are an intrusion into their private lives.

“They portrayed it as voluntary, which it isn’t, because if you don’t participate, they fine you every paycheck,” says Seff, the former Broward employee who is suing over the program. He has since retired on disability with back and neck problems. “I don’t think any employer should do it.”

In an effort to slow rising health care costs, Broward County in 2009 began asking workers to fill out a health information form and have a finger-stick blood test each year to check blood sugar and cholesterol levels, according to court filings. Workers who declined were docked $40 a month.

Those who did participate were offered disease management programs if they had asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, congestive heart failure or kidney disease. The county stopped docking those who declined to participate Jan. 1, 2011, after Seff’s suit was filed, court documents say.

The lawsuit, which argues the county’s program violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, is likely the first of its kind in the nation, says Seff’s attorney Daniel Levine in Boca Raton, Fla. Without ruling on whether the wellness effort was voluntary, a federal district court judge backed the county in April, 2011, saying the plan fell under provisions of the law meant to protect bona fide benefit programs. The case is now on appeal. Broward County attorneys did not return requests for comment.

Some state lawmakers are also concerned about the potential for discrimination. ..

..Given the available data, it’s hard to parse how much of the reported savings from such programs come from improved health, and how much from the frequent pairing of such programs with high deductible policies, which shift more costs onto workers.

“We just don’t know how effective (incentives) are,” says Volpp. There is pretty good evidence they help smokers quit, he says, but less that they prompt workers to lose weight and keep it off.

Weight gain is partly a function of genes and environment, he says, so programs that tie incentives to achieving a particular weight range are “in essence, penalizing people for factors they can’t control or can only partly control” – either because they’ve failed to lose weight or haven’t participated in the program.

Volpp says the medical literature shows that incentives work best when participants have choices: get below a certain BMI, or lose 5 percent of current body weight, for example. And, he says, rewards should be immediate.

“If you want the employee to do a health assessment or (medical) screening, you should give them the reward right after they do it” he says.

At Jones Lang LaSalle, workers who make a pledge — on the honor system — that they don’t smoke, or will take a stop-smoking class, and achieve a healthy weight, get 10 percent off their contribution toward insurance premiums….

Read the entire article here

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April 10, 2012 - Posted by | health care, Workplace Health | ,

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