A Choice for Employees: Get a Health Screening or Pay an Extra $600

Photograph by George Doyle

CVS Caremark employees with company health insurance are being asked to take a free health screening—for basic metrics such as weight, body fat, blood pressure, and glucose levels—or have their premiums increase by $50 per month ($600 annually). In other words: Get examined or pay up.

Fair? A growing number of companies have similar programs, including Bloomberg, which owns this site. CVS Caremark said in a statement that “79 percent of large employers have health assessments incorporated into their programs.” By making employees aware of their numbers, the company hopes to encourage healthier habits—and ultimately reduce overall health-care costs. “It is an incentive to receive the lower premium,” CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis wrote in an e-mail.

Not everyone is convinced. Deborah Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, a group that advocates for patient control of health records, says workers are being penalized for not handing over private health information. She told the Boston Herald that that while CVS says it never sees the personal health data, there is no way to verify that, and there’s a risk employers will discriminate against unhealthy workers.

Still, as health costs rise, employers will look for ways to cut back. Encouraging workers to get in shape, especially those with costly conditions such as obesity, is a growing priority. In addition to screenings, many employers also subsidize gym memberships and organize on-site fitness activities.

Financial incentives, even negative ones, do seem to get people’s attention. A recent Mayo Clinic study of obese Mayo employees and dependents found that when money is involved, people do better at losing weight. Those with money at stake—either penalized $20 each month if they failed to meet their goals or offered $20 per month for meeting weight-loss goals—lost more weight than those with no money on the line.

Many Americans clearly are not good at maintaining their health for its own sake. But $20 a month? Apparently that’s worth some effort.