CVS Ignites Fat Fines In The Workplace Controversy

April 26, 2013

It’s no secret that health care insurance costs are steadily climbing.  As a matter of fact, $2.7 trillion is spent on health care each year.  According to the former head of Google Health and now co-founder of the wellness company Keas,  Adam Bosworth, approximately 50% to 60% of money spent is due to heath conditions that could be improved through, stress management, diet, and exercise.

So it should come as no surprise that the recently passed Affordable Care Act makes it very clear that employers will have the increased option to monetarily penalize employees who are overweight or obese.  The act elevated the employers ability to penalize up to 30% of health care premiums.  Previous allotted penalties were at a maximum of 20%.

One employer, CVS Caremark, recently ignited controversy when the company distributed a letter to employees who participate in their offered health care program. The letter, sent to over 200,000 employees, announced the institution of a $600.00 penalty (approx. $50.00 a month)  on employees who do  not report their cholesterol, body fat, blood sugar, and weight in a yearly health screening. Their personal data has to be submitted to the WebMD Health Services Group, which provides benefits support to CVS.  The employees were given a deadline of May 1 to submit the required medical information.

Experts say that the move is likely the start of a new trend in workplace programs.  The goal of such programs is to encourage employees to practice healthier behaviors by focusing on targeted incentives in efforts to increase productivity and to cut down on insurance costs.

“This is an incredibly coercive and invasive thing to ask employees to do,”  said Dr. Deborah Peel, who founded non-profit Patient Privacy Rights.  “We’re all in this terrible situation where employers are desperate to get rid of workers who have costly health conditions, like obesity and diabetes.”

Citing privacy laws, CVS spokeperson Michael DeAngelis claims that the company would not have access to private medical employee reports.  Only insurers and WebMD Health Services would have access to the sensitive information.

CVS has also revised their health policy to advise smokers that they must try to quit smoking or participate in the tobacco cessation program.

Morgan Downey, editor and publisher of the Downey Obesity Report says that when it comes to obesity and weight management, instituting programs that include penalties are not very effective.  Studies have shown that weight loss is marginal at best.

Many experts, including Keas executives, share in Downey’s assessment.  It has been proven that individual employee success is better achieved through social rewards-based programs that include gaming applications, team healthy habit building through nutrition and fitness education, and wellness programs that promote healthier lifestyles through fun and reachable goals.

What do you think about imposing penalties on overweight or obese employees in the workplace?


-CVS photo courtesy of bluesmoon