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Marketplace Morning Report

Can your boss fine you for not disclosing your weight?

Shannon Mullen Jul 22, 2013
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No matter where you come down on the new health care law, it’s going to affect us all.

You might, for example, find your employer prodding you more about losing weight or quitting smoking. Not directly, but through so-called wellness programs that come with financial incentives or penalties.

Take Penn State University. Employees there are about to find themselves facing a pretty stiff surcharge for not going along with their wellness program.

They and their spouses will soon have to fill out online wellness profiles and get physicals. They’ll also need a bunch of tests including a body mass index and blood pressure. Failure to comply will cost $100 per month.

“There are a few faculty members — and there might be more than a few, I can’t tell — who are upset,” says Brent Yernal, the chairman of Penn State’s Faculty Senate.

The university announced the policy earlier this month while a lot of its staff is away.

Penn State says the confidential screening results won’t raise premiums, and they’re used for people’s own awareness and ”wellness promotion.”

Harvard health economics professor Katherine Baicker says it’s too early to tell whether wellness programs pay off.

“We’ll find out the answer better as more employers experiment with these programs, and we see what happens to the participants’ weight [and] blood pressure,” she explains.

A recent RAND study found only modest cost savings from wellness programs over time.

Independent health and wellness consultant Vik Khanna says employers should be focused on recruitment and retention, not their employees’ bad habits.

“A well done workplace wellness program should be about what an employer can do with and for the employees in the workplace, not what it can do TO them,” Khanna says.

Penn State employees in the Teamsters Union won’t be affected by the new policy. For those who don’t comply, the surcharge hits their paychecks starting in January.

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