, 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 deductibles.
While supporting wellness programs in general, several patient advocacy groups warned the Obama administration last March that additional consumer protections are needed. Tying medical test results to financial incentives or penalties in premiums or deductibles could discriminate against some workers, especially those who already have health problems, the groups said.
“When you start increasing premiums or pumping up the deductibles, you’re making it more expensive and harder for people to access insurance,” says the Cancer Society’s Woodruff, who adds that offering gift cards or bonuses are a better way to reward people for participation.
Employers argue, however, that since they’re on the hook for the bills, they can ask workers to take more responsibility.
“House money, house rules,” says Ken Sperling, global health care practice leader at Aon Hewitt.
Such plans appear to be the wave of the future. Faced with crippling health care costs, the number of employers embracing such programs inched up from 49% in 2010 to 54% last year – and more say they expect to do so soon, according to a survey by consultants Aon Hewitt.
The first worker wellness programs, which began about a decade ago, rewarded simple participation: attending a health fair or filling out “health risk assessments,” with the worker perhaps receiving a $25 gift card in return.
Today, many offer discounted premiums to workers who meet standards related to blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, with the value of those discounts running between $30 and $60 a month, says Jim Pshock, founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness in Avon, Ohio. Bravo administers such programs for about 220 employers nationwide, including Colorado construction firm Oakwood Homes and Nashville’s Ardent Health Services.
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