(NaturalNews) The US healthcare system is a mess, as both health insurance and medical treatment costs continue to soar exponentially year after year. But one way some companies are helping to address this dire situation is to begin penalizing workers that represent the biggest drain on the system (smokers and the obese) with higher healthcare premiums.
Reuters reports that Veridian Credit Union, a Waterloo, Iowa-based company, recently unveiled a new wellness and screening program aimed at helping those in high-risk health categories to get healthier. But part of the plan includes charging smokers and obese employees higher healthcare premiums beginning in 2013, which some allege is unfair and an intrusive breach of personal privacy.
But the truth of the matter is that many who smoke or are obese are fully capable of changing their lifestyles and lessening their burden on the healthcare system. Many simply choose not to. So to help motivate these individuals, many large and mid-sized companies are rolling out healthcare penalty programs for people who make no effort to improve their lifestyle.
It is important to remember that this is not the federal government that is implementing these changes. Private companies, which are having to absorb escalating healthcare costs because their employees continue to get larger and more sickly, are simply attempting to encourage their employees to take personal responsibility for their health, or else pay the price.
"Nothing else has worked to control health trends," says LuAnn Heinen, vice president of the National Business Group on Health, a group that represents large employers on healthcare and health benefits issues. "A financial incentive reduces that procrastination."
Most of the companies that are implementing the changes are also offering free treatment programs to their employees to address their health issues. Obese employees, for instance, often have access to free weight loss programs, while smokers are given the opportunity to attend free cessation classes. Some companies are even awarding employees who participate in health and wellness programs with cash prizes as an added bonus.
In 2009, only eight percent of large- and mid-sized companies had healthcare incentive and penalty programs such as these. Today, nearly 40 percent of such companies have these programs, and that percentage is expected to rise significantly into 2012.