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Employers charging workers fees for unhealthy choices

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 01 2013 05:31:13 AM CDT

Employers charge extra fees for workers' unhealthy choices

Your job probably encourages you to exercise and eat healthy, but what if they charged you if you don't?

In an effort to control rising health care costs, some companies are actually penalizing workers who make unhealthy choices. But is it fair?

Known for dispensing medicines, CVS is now putting its money where its mouth is -- or more specifically, its employees' money.

The drug store chain is now imposing a $600 penalty for workers who don't visit a doctor to report their weight, body fat, and blood pressure. The fee is added to their health insurance premiums.

It's an idea not popular with many people.

"If it's qualified as penalizing, I think it's not fair," said Franco DiCarlo, owner of Maggie Moo's Ice Cream at the Promenade Shops in Center Valley, Lehigh Co.

Melinda Santiago of Allentown said, "[My] personal opinion? It's up to somebody else if they want to maintain health, it's up to them."

But Tom Croyle with the Lehigh Valley Business Coalition on Health Care says efforts to reward employees for healthy choices aren't bringing costs down enough. So more companies are now opting for penalties.

"There's a real concern about what we would call 'ticking time bombs,'" he said. "You have to strike a balance. You have to focus on things that are within the employee's ability to control."

And according to Croyle, the cost goes beyond insurance premiums.

"What it does for the productivity of the employee," he said.

But DiFranco thinks penalties go too far.

"Maybe look at how you're incentivizing them," he said. "If it's not motivating them enough, I don't think it should be ... changed to be a penalty."

Businesses are doing their part too. They now rate insurance plans... which gives them a lot more leverage when it comes to the prices they charge.

As for whether penalties work, Croyle said there aren't good ways of measuring that yet.

"I think the effectiveness is still out there -- yet to be determined," he said. "But what I would say is that those people who have implemented wellness programs-- prevention programs-- are seeing lower health care cost trends."