Balancing act: fitness pays in the workplace

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In the last few years, corporate wellness programs have been fueled by employer desire to curb increases in healthcare costs, cut back on absenteeism and make employees more productive. Even when other benefits were cut during the recession, experts say companies continue to add wellness programs. Now, with healthcare reform ready to kick in, more employers are poised to dangle financial incentives and use creative measures to keep get their workers healthier.

Beginning in 2014, under health reform, employers can offer greater incentives to employees for participating in corporate wellness programs or meeting certain health targets. Those incentives can include reduced premiums, cash rebates or merchandise. At least a third of U.S. companies already offer financial incentives or are planning to introduce them, according to Volpp.

Some employers have gone a different route, coaxing participation in wellness programs through heavy-handed measures. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey caused a stir earlier this year when he announced employees’ biometric screenings would determine what discount level they’ll receive on health insurance. Those with BMI over 30 would not qualify for a discount at all.

Critics call Mackey’s heavy-handed way of measuring health “arbitrary” and claim it gives a bonus to those who already are genetically thin.

Yet, as America fights a seemingly intractable obesity problem, healthcare costs are soaring. And with the new healthcare reform law, more companies may have to deal with the burden.

Full story: Balancing Act: Fitness pays in the workplace – Cindy Krischer Goodman –