Updated January 30 at 2:30pm

Businesses try tough love on health

By Keith Regan
Contributing Writer
Though most would rather dangle a carrot than wield a stick, more businesses are moving toward a tough-love approach to corporate-wellness programs, with employees who don’t participate facing higher health-insurance premiums and other financial penalties. More

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Businesses try tough love on health

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Though most would rather dangle a carrot than wield a stick, more businesses are moving toward a tough-love approach to corporate-wellness programs, with employees who don’t participate facing higher health-insurance premiums and other financial penalties.

Financial incentives and noncash prizes have long been a staple of such programs, providing employees a motivation to participate in everything from biometric screenings to walking programs, nutritional seminars and stress-reduction programs.

But nationally, more businesses have begun to move past rewards, taking a hard line with employees who resist efforts to take part in preventive programs. A national survey by Aon Consulting released in March found that 5 percent of companies are using penalties alone, while 16 percent use a combination of incentives and penalties. However, more than half of the companies in the survey said they are planning to make the shift to imposing penalties for nonparticipation.

That trend is reflected among some Rhode Island businesses, said Kim Cormier, director of consumer activation at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island in Providence.

“We have seen an evolution to where some companies are now including penalties for employees who are nonparticipants,” Cormier said. “As more companies see how beneficial participation in wellness programs is, they are beginning to look at tying those penalties to medical-insurance costs.”

Dr. Peter Salgo, an ICU doctor, author and TV host, who spoke at the recent Worksite Health Awards event sponsored by Blue Cross and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, said he knows of one national company that charges employees who refuse to quit smoking an extra $650 a month for health-insurance coverage.

And CVS Caremark Corp. in Woonsocket sparked a reaction when it announced plans to begin docking employees as much as $600 for failing to get involved in wellness activities. “That ought to be a powerful motivator,” Salgo said.

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