Some companies exercise a tax benefit from offering comprehensive wellness programs to their employees. Some even use financial incentives to encourage their employees to participate in wellness programs. But due to final HIPAA rules the federal government issued in December 2006, some companies are looking at a new angle: They will be charging employees more for their health insurance in 2009 if the employees smoke or are obese or have high cholesterol.
One company that is currently practicing this is Indianapolis-based Clarian Health. As the cost of health care continues to soar, more and more employers are expected to follow suit.
As a non-smoker of average weight, I don't have a personal financial beef with this plan. However, as usual, I can see the gray areas in which employees could be unfairly rated. High cholesterol, for one thing, can affect people with healthy lifestyles. I have a friend who is a vegetarian and plays league volleyball two times a week and softball two other nights. And she still struggles with high cholesterol. Sometimes it's just a hereditary thing that can't be changed other than through medication.
And to tell you the truth, there would be ailments that I probably never would have developed if it weren't for my job. (That's right, migraine, I'm talking to you.)
I'm just wondering if this new trend will open the door to privacy infringements. Will there be regular testing for nicotine? Will employees be required to weigh in at different intervals? Since there's money involved, the scenario seems likely.
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.