Shape Up or Pay Up

A company out in Indiana has announced plans to begin fining employees for being overweight, smoking, and having high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure.

Clarian Health Care Partners, frustrated by increasing health care costs, will be fining employees up to $30 every two weeks starting in February of 2009: $10 for having a body mass index (BMI) considered too high for good health, plus $5 each for a continued smoking habit, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and hypertension. A representative of Clarian says that employees have 18 months to get into shape at company expense before the deductions begin. I did not hear it said where the money (up to $780 annually for those who fall under every category) will go, but I presume it will be put toward their health insurance premiums. People who turn in notes from their physicians that say that they have reasons for not controlling one condition (for instance, because it will interfere with medication for another more pressing medical problem) will be exempt.

Listen, I'm just as upset as the next woman about the ridiculous costs of health care, but I find this appalling. This is supposed to be a free country. Most of the conditions above require lab work to monitor. Will they force people to turn over their confidential medical records (not to mention that lab work itself is expensive)? What happened to the right to live as you choose? So what if you want to drag around an extra 100 pounds or light up after every meal and other times, too? My own husband smokes. I don't like it, but I do know that it's his life and he has the right to live it as he chooses.

The representative interviewed said they are covered legally, but I find that hard to believe. I'm predicting a flurry of lawsuits over this. It seems as if they are dictating people's lifestyles, and what gives them that right?

I have to wonder if Clarian is just trying to scare their employees into taking better care of themselves and maybe getting a reduction in their premiums. Because if a couple of dozen people do take advantage of the workout and counseling sessions the company is offering and do manage to improve their health over the next 18 months, that can only be a good thing.