Bad Habits? Pay Up?!

February 6, 2008 at 6:03 am 4 comments

Free Money Finance asks “Should Unhealthy People Pay More for Medical Insurance?”  Knowing the skyrocketing costs of medical coverage, FMF doesn’t have a problem with charging those who smoke, overeat or don’t exercise more money for their healthcare. He wonders, though, how to handle those who cost the system more due to conditions beyond their control.  He recognizes that this possible solution to excessive medical costs has some complicated elements to work out.

I am reluctant to penalize or legislate for “bad” personal habits. To me, it’s a slippery slope. It’s too easy to label things “bad” without enough data to support the designation. Think of how often contradictory medical evidence comes out in the press. Letting prevailing customs determine what’s acceptable is also risky. When we start down that road, we teeter on the edge of creating a repressive society like those in countries we strive to liberate.

Obviously, healthcare costs are soaring, and employers face an increasing burden in paying the bulk of the fees for us. Something absolutely has to change. But I think there are other ways to deal with the problem than making those with “bad” habits pay up.

For instance, how about promoting health on the job, rather than punishing people? The National Federation of Independent Business has 10 great ways to encourage a healthy workplace.

DISCOUNTS. Contact health-food stores, gyms and fitness centers and other health-oriented businesses. Many will offer discount programs to your employees.

EDUCATION. Keep materials available in your employee break room on current health topics. These can include fact sheets on common treatments and preventive health as well as popular health magazines.

HEALTHY FOOD. Sponsoring a workplace party or gathering? Consider serving heart-healthy food.

INCENTIVES. A small but growing number of business firms throughout North America provide in-house support for employees trying to become healthier. Initiatives include quit-smoking clinics, weight-loss reduction programs and exercise coaching. Many companies provide prizes or bonuses to employees who reach pre-determined health goals.

IN-HOUSE CLINICS. Check with your local public health department, HMO or health-insurance carrier to see if they’ll run an annual or twice-yearly health fair. These events usually include blood pressure checks, cholesterol screenings and mini-seminars on hot-button health topics.

LEAVE ALLOWANCES. Progressive businesses provide a non-punitive leave allowance policy–a certain number of hours or days that employees can use to care for themselves while ill or even while feeling under the weather. Better yet, establish leave policies that allow parents to care for ill children.

MODELING. If you’re in a position of leadership and authority, you’re also in a position to serve as a role model of good health. Be sure your people know about your positive exercise, nutrition and health education habits.

STRESS AWARENESS. Progressive managers are always on the lookout for signs of unrelieved stress. A few common signs are short-tempered employees, rapidly diminishing productivity or increasing errors and inexplicable fatigue. By intervening with temporary assignments, offers of assistance or even simple words of reassurance, you can often ward off health problems and even enhance employee retention.

SUPPORT SERVICES. Many businesses maintain contractual arrangements with employee service organizations to provide third-party counseling on drug and alcohol issues, recommend treatment or even provide guidance on other life issues. One of the upshots of such an arrangement is that you can refer employees with known substance abuse problems for assistance.

VALUES. Clearly and firmly state your belief in the importance of healthy living. Place the statement in your employee handbook and other employee communications, and praise employees who practice good habits.

Employee wellness programs are fairly new, so I’m not sure what stats are available to confirm their success or failure. Regardless, I think a reward-based system is going to be much more effective in the long run than one that’s punitive.


Entry filed under: news around the blogosphere, peer pressure. Tags: , , , , .

When in Doubt, Throw it Out It’s a Numbers Game

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Susan Kishner  |  February 6, 2008 at 6:07 am

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Susan Kishner

  • 2. FMF  |  February 7, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Thanks for highlighting my post!

  • 3. Dean Calvert  |  February 11, 2008 at 6:03 am

    Good info. and reading. I would definitely bookmark you to check for new updates.

  • 4. Following Up on Paying Up « Sassy Sexy Shapely  |  February 22, 2008 at 7:06 am

    […] 22, 2008 Lazy Man and Money has a two-part post that nicely dovetails with my post about paying for bad habits.  These entries very clearly outline the risks and challenges involved with penalizing people for […]


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