How It Really Pays To Be Healthy

If people won't take steps to optimize their health for all the obvious reasons -- as if living a longer, pain-free life and slowing down the aging process just isn't enough -- some companies are now providing extra incentives in the form of cash and product rewards, like a free IPod.

In one case, an overweight PacifiCare worker gets paid an additional $15 biweekly merely for tracking his food intake and exercise on the Web every 24 hours. Unconventional programs like this one have a very conventional payoff: Better health means lower health insurance costs.

PacifiCare is one of the more ambitious companies offering its 9,100 employees cash and non-cash incentives, including spa certificates and pool toys, for taking classes on smoking cessation or better managing their diets to treat diabetes and asthma as well as learning about art or music, washing their car or teaching their kids not to play so many video games.

However, some unions are also concerned such programs, beneficial as they are, may intrude, on occasion illegally, in the private lives of workers. One sheriff's office is Florida has required some applicants to submit to a polygraph test to answer questions about their smoking habits. Other companies have stopped hiring smokers altogether. One company based in suburban Chicago will soon charge an extra $50 every month for health coverage for smokers.

Here's the bottom line folks: Using Centers for Disease Control numbers, more than 900,000 Americans will die from smoking, alcohol abuse, poor diets and sedentary habits. And programs like the incentive-laden one PacifiCare has launched would more pay for themselves in a short time.

Do you want to be a statistic, or a healthy, living human being?

Washington Post February 20, 2005

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