Wellness or Else Programs
Punitive wellness programs are coming under increasing scrutiny. “Wellness or else is the trend,” according to Jon Robinson of Salveo Partners, a workplace health consulting organization.
According to statistics from the National Business Group on Health, two-thirds of large companies use incentives to encourage employees to participate in their wellness programs. And nearly a quarter of those incentives — a growing proportion — are structured as penalties.
The problem, according to Ron Goetzel of the Bloomberg School of Public Health is this:
The latest research done shows that only seven percent of U.S. employers have comprehensive, well-designed, well-implemented health promotion programs.
As wellness penalties grow into substantial sums of money, they are becoming more attractive as a means for shifting healthcare costs to employees with chronic diseases. Larry Levitt, Senior VP of the Kaiser Family Foundation, explains that “there seems little question that you can make wellness programs save money with high enough penalties that essentially shift more healthcare costs to workers.”
As these programs become more aggressive, corporate goals for your weight are gaining more importance. UCLA law professor Jill Horwitz describes the shift:
Now, your job is not just doing the data entry. Your job is doing the data entry and getting a healthcare screening and losing weight.
In a commentary published today by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, ConscienHealth founder Ted Kyle says employers can take positive action:
What’s an employer to do? Two things would help a lot. The first is to create a culture of good health at work. Job requirements, work spaces and food quality at work can have big effects. This is where people spend most of their waking hours. Simply encouraging people to sit less can help.
The second thing is to make sure that health plans cover evidence-based treatments for obesity. At present, most of the employers that penalize people for obesity have health plans that restrict coverage for medical weight management, nutrition counseling, and bariatric surgery.
By serving as a cover for shifting healthcare costs to people with chronic diseases, “wellness” is gaining ironically harsh connotations.
DEMAND Centre, photograph © DaveBleasdale / flickr
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