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Wellness Incentives Could Create Health-Care Loophole
Benton County, Ark., implemented a similar BeniComp program in 2006. The average amount of money the county spent on medical care per health plan participant fell during the first two years, from $6,575 in 2005 to $4,011 in 2007. It rose to $5,921 in 2008 and was on track to reach $6,752 this year, extrapolating from an average for the first nine months of the year, according to data provided by the county.
County benefits administrator Thomas Dunlap said incentives on the scale the Senate is contemplating could prompt some workers to leave employers' health plans or quit their jobs.
Paychex, a payroll management company, offers incentives for participation in wellness programs but refrains from pegging them to biometric targets.
"Employees could be doing everything right and still not achieve the desired outcome. And so then you're holding them accountable for something that may not be achievable," said Jake Flaitz, the company's director of benefits.
Workers at a company called Bemis, which makes packaging, went on strike this year partly because the firm was insisting that they and their spouses submit to health risk assessments to remain eligible for their health insurance, the Workers United union said in an August news release. The union called the assessments "invasive."
North Carolina has angered some state employees by introducing a wellness program that would limit the most generous benefits package to those who meet body mass targets and do not smoke. The state would allow workers to satisfy the requirement by enrolling in weight management or smoking cessation programs.
When fully implemented, the program is projected to reduce the state health plan's medical expenses by 1.2 percent, spokeswoman Linda McCrudden said.
Jack W. Walker, the top executive at the health plan, predicted that over the long run, the federal government will pay for North Carolina's success. State workers who live longer will spend more time collecting benefits from Medicare, the federal insurance program for older Americans, he said.