An Incentive A Day Can Keep Doctor Bills At Bay

Paying people to stay healthy may sound like an impractical way to control health care costs, but benefit consultant Hay/Huggins reports that that's what a handful of employers are doing. They provide employees with financial incentives if they meet certain "wellness" criteria, such as not smoking and maintaining normal weight.

Typically, such incentives take the form of either lower premium contributions required from employees or higher benefits. Baker Hughes Inc., a Texas drilling-and-tool company, figures it has saved $2 million annually by charging nonsmoking employees $120 less a year for health insurance. Adolf Coors Co. says it has saved $3.2 million a year by offering its employees incentives to meet weight, smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other health criteria.

Other companies rewarding healthy lifestyles include U-Haul, Control Data, and Southern California Edison. To avoid charges of unfairness and discrimination, some companies provide cost savings to employees actively involved in improving their health, even if they don't meet wellness guidelines. The rule, Hay/Huggins advises, should be "Don't include anything that isn't under the employee's control."

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