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Paying Workers to Get Healthy?

Posted Jan 05 2010 8:38am
I keep running across articles about companies that are paying their employees to "get healthy."  Programs are cropping up everywhere that incent employees to get annual physicals, quit smoking, lose weight, commit to physical fitness, etc.

The Palm Beach Post just ran an article on the Cleveland Clinic's wellness program, which gives employees incentives to "battle chronic medical conditions and lower the cost of care."  Six chronic conditions include: diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, asthma, excessive weight, and smoking.

The article featured a quote from the Cleveland Clinic's CEO, Delos Cosgrove, who said, "Over the last nine months, our employees have lost 112,000 pounds." The company has ditched deep fryers in the cafeteria and offers no junk food in vending machines. The company also employs nurse care managers that work with employees' physicians to manage chronic conditions with a bias toward supporting wellness and positive lifestyle choices versus treating diseases. More dramatically, job offers come with a required nicotine and drug test, with failure meaning no job offer possible for at least 90 days.

It's great that places like IBM and the Cleveland Clinic are investing in wellness programs with resources to support their employees in making significant lifestyle changes over time.

However, not everyone works at big companies and receives the benefits of such programs. I'll never forget one director of medicine, who was quite interested in integrative wellness and who said with resignation, "It's sad. Insurance will pay $50,000 to amputate a diabetic's foot but won't pay a few hundred dollars for preventive lifestyle coaching or to reimburse for nutritional supplements that could help."

Alas, real health care reform requires transitioning from a disease care model to a genuine wellness model. But we can start imagining a different future today. Since most of my readers are supplements fans, wouldn't it be nice if your annual supplement purchases counted as a legitimate health expense and income tax deduction? Maybe someday!
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