Contributed by Marcia L. Augsburger as part of our ongoing Wellness Matters series.
Last week, USA Today reported that 1/2 of all Medicare patients took advantage of the new benefit offered in section 4103 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - annual wellness visits, free of co-pays and deductibles, during which physicians administer comprehensive health risk assessments and design personalized prevention plans. In late November, 2011, the New York Times reported that monetarily incentivizing employees to stop smoking works. These reports support existing overwhelming evidence that incentives, such as reduced health care premiums, and waivers of co-pays, and deductibles, really do change behaviors. Despite critics' speculation to the contrary, people will do what's good for them if it's free or they can make money.
Specifically, the New York Times reported that "more and more employers are demanding that workers who smoke, are overweight, or have high cholesterol shoulder a greater share of their health care costs, a shift toward penalizing employees with unhealthy lifestyles rather than rewarding good habits." This is a mischaracterization of what the employers referenced are really doing. Companies like Safeway, Home Depot, PepsiCo, Lowe's, General Mills, and Wal-Mart are actually incentivizing their employees to improve their health by offering discounts to those who make lifestyle changes that dramatically reduce their risk of illness. The New York Times chooses to characterize this as punishing those who do not take advantage of the incentives, but those who have improved their health because their employers offered tangible financial rewards in terms of cost-avoidance will tell you that the glass is half-full, not half-empty.
If you are an employer worried about what ERISA, the ADA, and other laws have to say about offering incentives to your employees to improve their well-being, reviewing this "checklist" is a good place to start: Wellness Checklist.pdf
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