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Employers Get Tough on Health

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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








Newstex ID: KRTB-0197-19780955

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The health police are going to get you! They've been talking about limiting health care for smokers and overweight people here for a few years now - yet they increase funding to "help" drug addicts and alcoholics...because it's an illness ( it's not self-inflicted in any way of course!).


Even though employers do not fund personal health care here a lot of them are also saying no to employees who smoke or are obviously overweight as they say it makes a big impact on the amount of absenteeism in the workforce. Personal choices are being eroded all the time sadly. :lol:

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Welcome to "1984", "Animal Farm" and "Brave New World", I guess...


I personally think that they're looking at this all wrong---but I'm just a fat, lazy, depressed chick (NOT!).


What about older people? Are they going to kill them to save some money??? Reminds me of when I was in high school---we had a really cool English teacher who'd lead discussions about interesting topics: one of them being what we thought was "Youth in Asia"---this was during the Viet Nam war---But we were wrong---our teacher was talking about EUTHANASIA!!!


In another class we were going to study Don Quixote---but me and a couple of other kids thought our Argentinian English teacher was saying DONKEY ODIE!!!


Honestly, I did not use drugs or alcohol in high school---but there were times when you would have thunk I did!

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I probably shouldn't have read this post as it really make my blood pressure rise.....The U.S. is supposed to be about freedom. It is not the government's business or my Employer's business or anyone else's business what I do when I am not at work and it should be (I thought it was) illegal to even ask. I have worked with the most lazy unreliable people and neither of them smoked or were obese. If you have the drive to be at work you are, if you don't you are not and make up sick days to take. The last employer I worked for pushed doughnut and ice cream carts up and down the aisles for free on Fridays and it was a health organization. I always turned it down......but most did not.....Hello?


If we go to national healthcare we are all in big trouble, especially the elderly. To save money all you have to do is make them wait and they will die younger and then social security would be fixed because no one would live long enough to collect it. We will no longer have a choice who we treat with and who will get care and who will have to wait. I could not imagine trying to fight this disease with National Health care.....why do you think so many people come to the US for care? How many would if they could afford it that live in countries that have national health care? The only thing that will change our healthcare system is competition and an educated popluation who questions the doctor and doesn't just accept what they are told. The biggest problem with health care is the law suits that result from corporations trying to save money by making quotas for doctors to reach where they can only spend 5 minutes with each patient so they don't listen anymore they can't if they ever want to go home....Geez...talk about going postal. I could go on for hours but will spare you. This whole subject just makes my blood boil.

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With Cushing's being quote rare unquote and testing for it so hard to get and if you happen to be cyclical... well, a person can languish for years, ill, while eating healthy yet having a body that says anything but. How many of us were called liars. I look at my mom who is drinking and smoking herself literally to death, having strokes and diabetes and eye problems all directly related to her behaviour... and then I see us, who have absolutely no control but, with our testing that can be iffy and few doctors on our side especially if you suppress, I could see us getting penalized and there would be nothing that anyone could do, until diagnosis, that could stop it. And already we suffer with jobs... I wonder if they will refund once they find out it was involuntary (due to a legitimate disease?). Nah... life is unfair, and this seems to be the new discrimination.

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Discrimination. That's exactly what it is.


Don't forget how much damn money the government makes off tobacco and liquor taxes. Here in Idaho---the state runs the liquor stores!!!


If these guys are "policy makers"---then they need to get a new job---'cause they're robbing Peter to pay Paul!!! Who's going to be doing all the grunt work for these fat cats if we're all so stinking sick and tired and can't get decent health care?


Reminds me of what the Black Plague did to Europe---lots of the rich folks died along with peasants---so who ever was left over took over land and estates...

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Wait til the ACLU sinks their teeth into this one!

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Ya, this is scary stuff if you ask me.


I was absolutely floored when my husband wasn't given the premium rate for life insurance because his grandfather had heart problems.....even though my husband is in perfect health and HIS heart is fine.


melly in nv

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I just got the new plan offerings from my employer today. We have Aetna HMO with the option to buy up to a QPOS. This allowed me to go out of network for my dx and surgery. It costs me $117. per pay period(2 weeks) to cover myself and Rachel. So today my employer( private company) is proud to declare that although healthcare costs rose 17% in NJ, he worked it out so that it only came up 5% for the company. But Wow! My cost for the same QPOS with higher deductibles etc., more than DOUBLED to $244.17 per pay period.


Too bad I love my job. The cost of gas to get there and back is about $70 per week with my Camry at 32mpg.

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The thing that really alarmed me about this was they check your cholestrol! Sheesh, seems like nothing is private anymore. I mean if it hurts bad enough, we will quit smoking, right? But how do I get my out of control cholestrol in check when it is hereditary?


Insurance companies are out of control, in my opinion. I really think that's why when the place I worked started terminating people, 77% were over 40. Young people are healthier, and need medical care a lot less often. But they will be older one of these days, too!

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I've had it with insurance and employers.


Everyday I get upset when I go to check my mail. I've never heard a peep from my life insurance company until recently and also got a letter and a couple of phone calls from a nurse at my health insurance company who wants to help manage my case. (Maybe the 20 pees tests I did this last month or so raised a red flag.) I keep thinking if I ever leave my job that I won't get coverage at a new job because of a pre-existing condition. It's all too much.

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This stuff makes me mad! It's one thing if you CAN do something different to change your health situation, but it's another when you can't control it, and they punish you for it. That is discrimination!


We can't make Cushing's go away because we quit using some product, or start excercising more, or start eating something better! Along with that, we know, comes high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high glucose, etc. They look at those things individually, and think that lifestyle changes will make all the difference. In some cases, it does, but we all know that just because it looks cut and dried, it's not! They can be missing the bigger picture, which is so much more important. So what do they do? Punish us, the ones who are suffering, the ones who are paying the premiums for ins., instead of punishing the Dr's. who misdiagnose us! They keep shelling out money to them, because they decide they want to run this test, or that test, but they are irrelevant to our situation, yet our ins. company wants us to go to THEM because they are in network! If we choose to go out of network to someone who knows what they are doing, and gets to the bottom of it much faster, they refuse to pay for them at the higher coverage rate, just because they are out of network! Never mind that THEY are the ones who actually got you diagnosed and put an end to all of the maddness!


It burns me up! Our insurance companies are idiots! I'm sorry, but my feeling is, if I am the one paying the premium every month, then I should be able to decide which Dr's. I want that money dispursed to! They shouldn't have control over who is covered for me, and who is not!



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that's insane!! And it worries me to death... Obviously 1.) Cushing's and 2.) DH (who carries the ins) naturally has high BP and Cholesterol .. is some weird hereditary thing and has nothing to do with his diet or weight. That seems really unfair!

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