Archive for October 10th, 2012

Employers Offer Health Insurance Discounts for Low Cholesterol, Non-Smoking

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

According to Fox News’ “Is your boss watching your cholesterol?,” many companies are offering not only discounts for employees who stay healthy.  In some cases, they are also penalizing those who have poor health habits like smoking.  Some recent examples include receiving a $50 bonus if you go to a health screening, having your health insurance premiums lowered if you stop smoking, and receiving contributions to an HSA if you lower your weight or cholesterol.  If you work at Wal-Mart, you could be charged $10 every pay period for being a smoker.  Many may question the validity of these practices, but with health insurance costs through the roof, every little thing to keep employees healthier and deter unhealthy behavior adds up to savings on health care costs.

Last year, 54% of companies were offering some type of financial incentive for good health.  By this year, that number has climbed to 61% of employers offering some type of a plan.  One-fifth of companies are giving penalties for poor health decisions, a slight increase of 1% from last year.  One of the most shocking increases is for the amount of employers using actual statistics to measure employee health and offer their discounts.  Last year. only 4% were looking at statistics like BMI and blood pressure.  Twenty-five percent of companies are now using these biometric measurements, also for cholesterol and weight numbers.  While it’s in the best interest of everyone involved for employees to improve their health and lower health insurance costs for employers and insurance companies, some wonder if this is too much control over our lives.  There could be legal issues based on who is running the program and how well they keep it confidential.

Smoking is the biggest health issue being tackled by employers with their employees.  Thirty-five percent of companies offer discounts to non-smokers or free programs to help their employees stop smoking.  While most companies work on the honor system, it is simple to test employees for nicotine if they so desire.  Health insurance costs per employee average $11,664 each year in 2012.  That is up from $10,982 last year, but is expected to increase an average of 7% next year as well.  Wal-Mart contends that non-smokers’ health care costs are 25% less than those of smokers, so employers have a vested interest in employees’ health.  By encouraging employees to be healthier, you also can reduce the rate of absences and even increase productivity.  Companies are legally allowed to reward or penalize employees for up to a 20% difference in their health insurance premiums.