Companies linking health factors to benefits

First they tried nudging. Now companies are penalizing workers who have high health risks such as obesity and high blood pressure or cholesterol as insurance costs climb.

Lee Morrison, 51, doesn’t mind the push, which came in the form of added insurance charges from his employer, Western & Southern Financial Group.

“I knew if I wanted to be healthier and pay less, it was up to me to do something about it,” said Morrison, who has lost 54 pounds and lowered his body mass index enough to earn refunds the past two years.

A small number of companies have linked health factors to what employees pay for benefits, but the practice is expected to grow now that some federal rules have been finalized, spelling out what’s allowed by law. Employee advocates worry that other anti-discrimination laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act won’t cover the person who is 20 or 30 pounds overweight.

The businesses are deducting from employees’ paychecks, adding insurance surcharges or offering insurance discounts or rebates only to low-risk workers.

“Employers know they have to do something,” said Garry Mathiason, a senior partner at the national employment and labor law firm Littler Mendelson, based in Boston. “I believe that in just the next two years more employers will turn to penalties to change employee behavior.”

{Much like revelations of how Wal-Mart uses employees’ medical costs and personal health information to make hiring, promotion, and decisions about what health benefits to offer, this story tells about how other companies are taking a similar approach. The insurance industry no longer takes any risk insuring large numbers of people in ‘risk pools’. Insurance today is simply a cost-plus business: whatever health care costs, insurers increase our premiums to ensure their profits stay high. So insurers use any and all of our health personal health information against us to deny benefits or increase our premiums. ~ Dr. Deborah Peel, Patient Privacy Rights}