mertie Posted June 12, 2008 Report Share Posted June 12, 2008 http://www.bcbs.com/news/national/employer...547&print=t Employers get tough on health: Some take punitive steps against smokers, overweight workers <H2></H2>September 24, 2007 By Tim Jones Sep. 24, 2007 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- Get ready to say goodbye to the days of high-fat meals, junk food snacks and that after-work cigarette you always enjoy smoking -- at least if you intend to have a job and health insurance. The rules of the workplace are changing, and personal behavior and lifestyle habits -- those unrelated to what you do at work -- are now fair game for employers determined to cut health-care costs. If you smoke, you may not get hired and you could get fired. If your cholesterol is too high, you can pay higher premiums for your insurance. The same goes for blood pressure, body mass and blood glucose levels. The requirements embraced by a growing number of companies are encroaching on privacy and raising questions about who will qualify for health insurance, as well as employment. "Employers are trying to thin out their health-care costs, by any means necessary," said Jeremy Gruber, legal director for the National Workrights Institute of Princeton, N.J. "We're only seeing the beginning of this. Employers started with smokers. Now they're moving on to the general population." Indianapolis-based Clarian Health has told its 13,000 employees that, starting in 2009, it will charge them $5 per pay period if they use tobacco or exceed specified levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and other measurements. Penalties could reach $30 per paycheck. The Cleveland Clinic on Sept. 1 started nicotine testing in pre-employment physicals. If nicotine is found, applicants will not be hired. And Weyco Inc., the suburban Lansing, Mich.-based company that drew national attention in 2005 when it fired four employees who used tobacco, has expanded the health insurance requirement, penalizing employees whose insured spouses smoke or chew tobacco. Penalties are $50 per employee paycheck. Although thousands of employers have put in place incentives for their workers to live healthier lifestyles, the vast majority of employers have not yet embraced the approach of penalizing employees who don't satisfy medical or behavioral dictates. But punitive measures are gaining a foothold in the workplace, according to lawyers and groups that follow insurance and employment trends, because health-care costs are growing at high-single-digit to double-digit rates annually. The question for employees is: How far will these requirements on personal habits and penalties go, and what sort of criteria will employers use to define good health? "Your privacy is being whittled away, piece by piece," said Anita Epolito, who was fired by Weyco, a health benefits administrator, in 2005 after refusing to stop smoking. "They're trying to change behavior after 5 o'clock," Epolito said. "What's next? No McDonald's? No caffeine? No Krispy Kreme?" Heidi Ingalls, another former Weyco employee, tried to stop smoking but failed. She left the company in late 2004 rather than be fired because she "saw the writing on the wall." "I wasn't robbing banks or killing people or doing illegal drugs," Ingalls said. "Are they going to tell me I'm 12 pounds overweight and then start telling me what I can eat?" Gary Climes, vice president of Meritain Health Michigan, which now owns Weyco, noted that the firings didn't violate Michigan law and that the 150 employees at the Okemos-based company have, over time, accepted the rules. "It really comes down to a personal choice as far as do you want to be employed here," Climes said. Climes said that since 2005, when Weyco instituted the wellness policy that includes the smoking ban, health insurance costs have increased by no more than 2 percent a year, well below the national average. The move to regulate the workplace and private behavior of employees has historic resonance in Michigan. A century ago Henry Ford created a so-called Sociological Department, a team of 150 investigators who visited employees' homes and asked them about drinking, gambling, diet, savings and other personal matters. Those who didn't meet Ford's standards within six months were fired. In the face of heavy criticism, Ford abandoned the practice after seven years. Obesity and galloping health-care cost increases for many employers, though, have fueled the movement to reduce employer costs. "This all comes down to the health-care crisis in our country. Costs are spinning out of control, and companies don't want to be left holding the bag," said Chicago lawyer H. Candace Gorman, who specializes in labor and employment law. Critics of the Weyco firings have launched an effort in the Michigan Legislature to outlaw the practice but face stiff resistance from the state's business community, led by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Wendy Block, director of health policy and human resources for the chamber, said the Weyco firings have created "negative PR" for the company but added that her group opposes any effort to restrict employers' freedom to control costs. Toni Talbot, a human resources consultant, said firing employees for tobacco use is "bad policy" and "intrusive." "Do I want people to live healthy lives? Yes," Talbot said. "Do I want to get into their daily lives? No." That line is blurring. In 2006, Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. (NYSE:SMG) fired a Massachusetts employee after discovering he smoked. The worker sued, alleging the dismissal violated his civil rights. Although discrimination laws in 30 states and the District of Columbia outlaw what happened in Michigan, there are few clear limits on how far employers can go when it comes to hiring and insuring people who aren't disabled. That void has created the current changing climate and all the questions about "What's next?" - -- - Smoking out puffers Weyco Inc. of suburban Lansing, Mich., performs random testing every three months, usually of about 30 employees. Workers are summoned to blow into a Breathalyzer-like device that measures carbon monoxide levels. If the reading is high, employees take a urine test. If they fail the urinalysis twice they will be dismissed. One person was fired in 2006, a company official said, and none this year. -- Source: Meritain Health Michigan email@example.com Newstex ID: KRTB-0197-19780955 Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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