My first job after college graduation was at McGraw-Hill Book Company. The pay was low but the benefits were incredible and it got my foot in the door at a publishing house.

As a starry-eyed twenty-something I was mesmerized to be working in a place that would have been the envy of Marlo Thomas’ character in “That Girl.”  

“Diamonds, daisies, Broadway, That Girl!”  

I have a clear memory of my father meeting me at my office for lunch. He planned on taking me to Smith & Wollensky’s across the street (yum!), but before we left I gave him the grand tour of the building. There was a restaurant on the top floor, an underground mall and theatre, and the roof was converted into a track for employees-only. 

McGraw-Hill wanted their staff to stay in shape. And for a good reason: A healthy employee translates into greater productivity. So when I read an article from The Wall Street Journal, “Wellness Programs Get a Health Check: Designed to Motivate Workers to Get in Shape, Employers Tread Carefully With Toughened Plans”, it reminded me of the generous health insurance plan I had in 1981.

That was then. This is now.

The Wall Street Journal article talked about the lengths employers now go to provide incentives for employees to remain healthy, urging them to get regular checkups and choose healthier lifestyles in order to help employers manage their health care costs.

If the employees comply, they are rewarded with discounts on insurance premiums or extra cash in the form of reimbursement accounts.

But what happens if they don’t comply? An employee can be penalized with a surcharge added to their premiums.

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The Affordable Care Act was meant to help encourage company-sponsored wellness programs by increasing maximum incentives and surcharges.

Are these incentives a good thing? Should employees be forced to participate in wellness programs or face severe consequences?

Wellness issues aren’t the only problem. There is also the question of privacy.

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently filed two lawsuits against companies claiming that certain medical examinations and lifestyle inquiries that were not job-related violate The American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

When one worker refused to submit to an exam they were not only denied benefits but were also fired. Another company demanded that an employee participate in the program or face cancellation of their health plan and receive disciplinary action.  

What do Americans think of this?

In a recent Kaiser Foundation Tracking poll, “Most say it’s appropriate for employers to offer wellness programs, but not to tie premiums to participation or health programs.” 

It seems that some companies are beginning to change their tune. For example, Johnson & Johnson, long known to offer employees the gold standard of health plans, are offering programs that are non-monetary, such as a walking program recognizing employees who walk more than one million steps a year.  

Yet despite Johnson & Johnson and other companies changing their policies, “The use of incentives appears to be on the rise. Seventy-four percent of employers with wellness programs planned to offer incentives this year compared with 57% in 2009, according to the National Business Group on Health. The median incentive has risen to $500 from $338 in 2010.”

What remains to be seen is how these lawsuits play out, and whether companies will continue or change their policies about wellness program compliance. 

What do you think about these policies?

 

Cathy Chester blogs at An Empowered Spirit, which won third prize in Healthline’s Best Health Blog Contest in 2014, was named #2 of the “Top 10 Social HealthMakers in MS” by Sharecare “ and received a nomination for the past 3 years as WEGO Health’s Best in Show Blog. She is a contributor for The Huffington Post as well as a blogger for MultipleSclerosis.net and Boomeon. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Midlife Boulevard, BetterAfter50, Erma Bombecks’ Writers Circle, The Friendship Circle and Woman at Woodstock.