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Health Incentives: Getting Paid to Work out in the Workplace

If you work at a decent-sized company that provides health insurance, chances are you’ve been offered low-cost or free health screenings in exchange for reduced insurance rates, along with a variety of incentives to lose weight, quit smoking, or change your diet.

work-health-incentivesThe majority of companies today offer some type of health incentive program, with the idea that they will reduce employees’ rate of chronic illness and disease and keep company health costs lower as a result. But are these programs all they’re cracked up to be? Read on to find out.

What are health incentive programs?

Health incentive programs come in a wide variety of forms, and not all are created equal. Typically companies start by offering bonuses or a discount on monthly insurance premiums to those who complete a health screening either online, with their doctor, or both. Employees can get a picture of their overall health and assess their risk factors for heart disease and other chronic conditions.

From there, the possibilities are endless. Educational seminars, low-cost gym memberships, company exercise programs, nicotine cessation counseling, and preventative screenings are among the many options offered. Cash bonuses, gift cards and other perks are given to those who complete these activities, with the hope they will encourage a healthier lifestyle.

Other programs are more aggressive, and require participants to reach specific goals in order to earn rewards. These may include weight loss targets, a reduction in tobacco use, or a change in cholesterol or blood pressure levels. Some companies tie their rewards to results; others go as far as issuing surcharges to those who don’t meet these health benchmarks.

Do health incentives really work?

Since health incentive programs are a relatively new phenomenon, there is not much research to support or dismiss their effectiveness. Short-term studies show some positive results, but long-term effects are still to be determined, and it will be difficult to measure whether incentivizing health in the workplace have lasting impacts, once an employee leaves a company. Still, it’s tough to argue that increased participation in preventative services – like annual exams, mammograms and cancer screening – isn’t a good thing.

The downside of incentive programs

A program that improves employee health and wellbeing along with a company’s bottom line sounds like an obviously great idea, but not everyone is so sure. Critics point to the lack of evidence that incentive programs work, and raise concerns about the invasion of employees’ privacy.

Others are questioning whether aspects of some health incentive programs are even legal. By definition, company wellness programs must be voluntary, and cannot discriminate against employees based on their health conditions, or require them to meet health benchmarks that they cannot reasonably achieve. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed several lawsuits against specific companies, arguing that their programs are not truly voluntary. And in some states, it’s unlawful to impose certain health standards on employees, such as requiring them to be tobacco-free.

The future of health incentive programs

Recently, the Affordable Care Act increased the amount companies are allowed to reward employees for participating in wellness programs and achieving health goals. Despite the lack of strong research and other criticisms, many major health organizations such as the American Heart Association have publicly come out in support of health incentive programs. Although legal action by patient advocacy organizations might result in tighter restrictions, it’s a pretty sure bet that incentive programs are not going anywhere.

So if your business in Maryland offers an incentive program, make sure you know your rights, but consider taking advantage of what it has to offer, too.

For business insurance questions, call or contact Consolidated today.