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CVS To Staff: Tell Us Your Weight, Or Pay A Fine

The drugstore chain wants its employees to give the company information on their weight and fitness so that the company can find out their baseline health metrics and try to improve. If they don’t, their insurance bill goes up. Is this a good use of data, or an infringement of privacy?

CVS To Staff: Tell Us Your Weight, Or Pay A Fine

Given they pay for health care insurance, employers have an interest in keeping staff healthy. Fitter employees are less of a strain on the medical system, and they tend to work harder, taking fewer sick days. But how far should companies go to ensure workers are in good condition?

Drugstore chain CVS recently told its 200,000 employees to reveal their weight, height, body fat and blood pressure information, as part of a "health screening and wellness review, so that colleagues know their key health metrics [and can] take action to improve their numbers, if necessary." It said it would pay for staff to get the tests done, but that they must agree to sign a form saying the data was given voluntarily, and that they were happy for an outside health care group to process the data.

If CVS workers don’t agree, they will have to pay an additional $50 a month in insurance costs, or $600 a year, according to a report in the Boston Herald.

The company says the additional amount is a way to incentivize staff to take care of themselves:

"To encourage a higher level of participation in our wellness review, we reviewed best practices and determined that an additional cost for those who do not complete the review was the most effective way to incent our colleagues to improve their health care and manage health costs."

Privacy advocates have described the incentive in stronger language, arguing it is not really voluntary for people who will struggle to pay. They also say that private data could be used to eliminate employees with higher health costs.

But CVS says it doesn’t review individual data (it’s held by the third party), and that many companies have health assessments. What they don’t seem to have is fines for non-participation, however.

Update: Simon Owens has some nice numbers from an Aon Hewitt survey:

The survey of 800 large and midsize employers in the United States found that 83 percent use some kind of carrot or stick to try to nudge employees to improve their health. Of those, 79 percent offer rewards, while 5 percent imposed consequences. Sixteen percent used a mix of both … Programs that seek to impose consequences on workers by charging them higher premiums or requiring them to pay a surcharge have come under criticism by some benefits specialists and health experts, who have argued that the policies are invasive and can punish people for health problems that not are always easy to fix.