Would you share your personal medical information with your employer's health care administrator to save $600 on your health insurance?
That's precisely the proposition that the CVS pharmacy chain has offered its workers under a controversial new health care program that sparked a social media backlash this week.
To encourage the healthy lifestyles that will prove less costly to the drug store chain in the long run, CVS now offers its employees the option to reveal their doctor-monitored weight, body fat, cholesterol and glucose levels to a third-party administrator. Those who choose not to participate are, in essence, charged $600 more for their health insurance. A company spokesman says the administrator is instructed to keep all medical data private and not share it with anyone, including CVS.
Dr. Deborah Peel, founder of the Patient Privacy Rights advocacy group, was quick to respond. "I've seen way too many employers that use employee health information to discriminate against them, so even if it's couched as 'We're not gonna look at your health information now,' there's really no way to be sure of that," she says.
CVS is hardly alone in trying to encourage workers to make lifestyle changes to help trim health insurance costs. Large employers have been promoting healthy habits among their workers for years, whether by banning smoking, building onsite exercise facilities or springing for fitness classes.
But today, employers are increasingly replacing or supplementing the carrot with a financial stick by offering rewards and discounts to workers who adopt healthy lifestyles and/or denying them to those who don't, as a sort of bad-habit surcharge.
According to a recent survey of 538 mid- to large-size companies by risk management firm Towers Watson, more than a third of employers now either penalize workers for failing to meet health requirements or plan to do so by year's end. Four in five of those surveyed plan to encourage wellness with rewards of up to $400 a year.
For many, the idea of the boss intruding on one's lifestyle seems prejudicial at best, reprehensible at worst. But as news of America's growing obesity epidemic and its repercussions on health care costs suggests, bad health choices are not only killing our people, they're crippling our health care system for everyone.
While preventing the risk factors that lead to chronic disease has become job No. 1 for physicians, most Americans just aren't that into it. A study of 22 focus groups of insured individuals published in Health Affairs last month found that a majority of Americans feel little responsibility for containing medical costs. In fact, they want the best care possible, regardless of cost to their insurer, even when less expensive treatments are just as effective. And they don't want doctors factoring cost into their treatment, either.
Where do you stand? Are employers doing us all a favor by encouraging a healthier workforce? Or is your private life none of their business?
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Jay MacDonald is a Bankrate contributing editor and co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book by Bankrate editors and reporters.