Employee Benefits: The Less You Weigh, The Less You Pay?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
With health care costs rising more each day, employers are constantly looking for ways to lower their expenses and give employees incentives for healthy behaviors. Whole Foods has launched a new program for their employees called the Team Member Healthy Discount Incentive Program. All team members currently get a 20% discount on Whole Foods products. But now they will have the opportunity to get higher discounts (up to 30%) based on health measures like blood pressure and BMI. So the healthier you are, the more of a discount you'd be eligible to receive.

The program is totally optional, so anyone choosing not to participate will still get the standard 20% discount. In a letter to employees, CEO John Mackey outlined the details of the program. There are various discount levels: bronze, silver, gold and platinum based on an employee's blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and nicotine use.

This program is drawing a lot of criticism for a number of reasons. Opponents argue that BMI is not a good measure of health (since someone who is very healthy but muscular can have a high BMI). They also argue that controlling discounts based on health means that more "unhealthy" people won't get the same access to the healthy products Whole Foods sells- even though they might need them the most.

For many companies, I think the time has come to start getting creative to control health care costs. But is this a good way to go about it?

What do you think? Is this a good idea or does it make you uncomfortable?

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If an employer or medical insurance company is serious about helping people get healthy they need to offer discounts or full payment of gym memberships. As far as the health measurements being used to grant discounts at Whole Foods, some things need to be taken into consideration. Their policy is rewarding health, which is great! What are they doing to help employees get healthy? Gym memberships, access to a nutritionist, a discount on fresh fruits and vegetables, they need to help people lead a healthy life instead of just rewarding the end results. I would think that their employee use of sick leave would decrease with a healthier workforce, which would save money and increase productivity, which would offset the cost of gym memberships, etc. Report
Unfair, invasive, discriminatory. I am healthy, take no meds, am as limber as I was in high school, but I would NOT work for a company that was this far into my body! Incentives are great, but this whole concept punishes those who are trying and rewards those who don't even have to work at it. Performance and production should be rewarded, not genetics! Report
Incentives are great, but the measures need to be fair amongst everyone. Since many of the measures they are using could be high or low for those that are healthy in all other areas, they need to look at the whole picture/person. Not each measure individually. Report
My husband's company just started the same program. I'm kind of excited for the chance to save money on our health benefits. Nonsmoker - check. BP - check. BMI - Working on it. His also will pay retroactively if you lose 10% of your weight by September so that is my goal. Report
Isn't this along the same lines as what that college/university was planning on doing by making it a requirement to be a certain BMI before graduating? I think that's a bit trickier because not graduating can have a more negative effect on one's life than not getting an extra 10% discount on groceries. Report
I think the toughest part is that it gets seen both ways - as a reward for those who are healthier by the yardsticks given, but also as a penalty for those who don't quite measure up. Even worded as a discount, those who can't get it feel like they're being "charged more".

Beyond that, I think it rewards/penalizes symptoms and risk factors rather than actual health. Having a high BMI does not give someone diabetes and heart disease. Someone can have perfect numbers and yet catch every new virus that comes around, overtrain and injure themselves frequently, and a lazy worker. So a healthy, hard-working person with a higher BMI gets no discount while the skinny slacker in the next cubicle who calls in "sick" on Monday or Friday often enough for others to joke about it gets a discount. That's where it fails to live up to what it seems to encourage. Report
I've never heard of something more stupid, genetics play a big role in both BMI and blood pressure. will we deal eugenics? that will be a gigantic step "forward", God knows to what! Report
I think it is a great thing to have incentives. Perhaps this saves the company money on health insurance. Life is full of seemingly unfair situations. It's one of those situations where the reward goes to the successful. But isn't that just life? Report
I think that it is a move in the right direction. I struggle to maintain weight, BMI and healthiness. As I get closer to 60, I realize that I am very healthy compared to many and take no meds. I like to think my daily effort to remain healthy is being rewarded. I am now in one of these insurance carriers. I have to begin all these processes next week. Report
My husband's company is currently doing this sort of program. They are measuring cholestrol, blood pressure, BMI, waist measurment, if you are a smoker/non-smoker. When they did the tests at his workplace they told my husband he had high cholesterol (they did a non-fasting test) which prompted him to go to his doctor. He went to his doc and had a fasting test and was a completely different number which was much lower than the company that came in and tested the employees.
I can see raising prices if a person smokes as that is a choice. Of course eating bad foods is a choice too but things like cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes are also heriditary. I think its pretty unfair. Like a lot of other folks said, I know plenty of "healthy" people who are not so healthy, but yet because their BMI is low they do not have to pay higher costs. I also asked my husband if people who had a BMI that reflected that they were underweight also had to pay more since that is also a health risk. He said that they do not have to pay more. Also at his company union employees do not have to have testing done or pay more.
What is funny is that this company runs my husband and their employees into the ground. They are currently understaffed so many nights at home are spent doing work late into the evening. How does that leave anyone with a choice to work out?? The stress is high which also affects BP! Its a no win situation all around. Report
Whole foods is invested in promoting a certain lifestyle, and can make demands of their employees appropriate to that investment, just like Hooters and their busty waitresses. I would not like to see this sort of program in place at a business that is not directly related to health.

Another opinion that I have is that I would not feel comfortable shopping at a place that encourages weight discrimination, even while I am trying to lose weight. Report
I think it's a great idea. May have to tweak the measurements over time (for example, to address the muscular folks have higher BMI concerns) but this is moving folks in the right direction. Report
This is great. Report
Encouragement has to start somewhere! A better deciding system can be implemented later. Report
I do not see a problem with what Whole Foods is doing. If anything it will encourage people to become healthier to get the better rewards. I like that it is optional and that all employees keep their 20% discount which when I worked at Wal-mart years ago is better than I got.

Currently my state health insurance is changing. Starting next year all smokers will not be able to get the 80/20 plan and will have to get the 70/30 plan. In 2011, those whose BMI is 40% or higher will also be forced to get the 70/30 plan. I am obese and have done my bmi and luckly at 33% and hope to be in the overweight category before 2011.

I do agree that BMI is a bad way to figure out if a person is healthy or not. Since Whole foods is testing different things I hope that the BMI is not the only factor in their program. For ours, BMI is the only factor being looked at which I think is wrong. Another issue for Whole Foods and for our own state. Who is going to pay for the tests to check BMI and so on? If it comes out of my pocket I will be very unhappy! Report
My employer has enrolled in Virgin Health miles. It is an incentive plan to get employees active. It is voluntary, you sign up and they send you a pedometer. You get "health miles" for walking. The point level is based on how may steps you take each day. There are other ways to win points. You get paid for reaching each level. It is not a lot but it does make you get out there and do some walking and it has worked for me. I go out of my way to get "extra" steps each day. I think incentives for healthy living are on the right track for employers as it will encourage us to do better. Once it is a habit it is there for ever.
This new help you get healthy plan was implemented at my husbands job. With all the testing, the standards are set even higher than a Medical Doctors. A team of people test the employees. (Chosen by the Ins. Company).

The older you get the better they want your health to be. My husband is 57 years old. BP has to be lower than 129/70 his was 130/70. We have to pay extra. Cholesterol has to be below 130 his was 150 we have to pay extra.

Our Doctor will not put him on meds, but we have to pay extra!

The plan is called voluntary if you don't participate you have to pay extra also. Coverage was reduced and the plan cost more. He loses 1.25 per hour in pay for new plan the old one use to be paid by the employer.

They will chip in for a health club plan. He would rather get back the 1.25 per hour and pay for his own plan.

I work at a health club, some times people have heart attacks and even strokes, just because they fall under the (fit) guide lines does not mean that they will live forever.

We need to get the chemicals out of our foods like MSG that make our children over weight. We don't take time to cook, and school lunches are void of nutrition.

People do you really want your employers involved in your personal lives also? It always sounds good until you do not have a choice! You can be healthy without the incentives that will only give the Insurance companies the benefits.

Take your own responsibility! You have loads of resources. Get a friend and go for a walk. Learn to cook! Put your families first. Report
I work for Safeway and they have a similar program. Once a year you can get blood pressure, BMI, nicotine and cholesterol testing. If you fall within a healthy range you get a discount for each area. I think this is very cool. I love to save money on my insurance and it provides me with goals to save more next time. Report
I think it is a good idea but I could see one improvement. That would be by changing BMI to @ of body fat index. Since it is optional, it is not selecting out unhealthy people to not participate. It would be an encouragement to get healthier. Report
I believe that this is an excellent idea. The discount is already there, and the OPTIONAL chance to increase it rests squarely on the employee. In my opinion, that is the company putting their money where their mouth is. Saying "we want you in good health" and giving you an incentive / opportunity to improve your own health is what separates the good from the great. Report
Excellent idea! All employees already get a 20% discount... and there is an incentive not only to get healthy, but for people to get their levels checked regularly. Early intervention is a key to avoiding more serious chronic problems, so I would support anything that encourages people to take an active role in monitoring their health. The employer doesn't have to give anyone a discount to begin with... this is going above and beyond. Report
Whole foods is right on again!! I am over 300 pounds so I would be on the wrong end of this if my employer did it but the incentive to turn it around is powerful. As most plans are today I pay the same for coverage that my healthy coworkers do. I am diabetic, asthmatic, have sleep apnea, high cholesteral, high blood pressure. What successful business model on earth says I cannot be charged more money than someone that has none of those problems?

The important thing about this plan is that it isn't so much a punishment as an incentive to turn it around. They are using the natural inclination of humans to work towards a goal. I wish there was a whole foods near me so I could support them. The more I hear of their management the more I wish more companies would emulate it!! Report
While I agree that giving a health incentive is a good thing, this is a really bad idea. BMI should not be used because of the reasons discussed in the article, plus the money and effort the company will spend on testing their employees is a waste of resources. Not to mention the TOTAL invasion of privacy! What would make more sense if they really want to encourage employee health, is have a tiered system of discounts depending on what the employee buys. So, for example, give a 30% discount for organic fruits and veggies, a 20% discount on regular food, and maybe no discount for sweets and fats. Or maybe offer a discount on gym memberships or give some incentive for riding bikes to work rather than driving (a clean, comfortable and private place to clean up and change clothes would be a good start). Report
There may be some flaws- but this sounds like a great system. We need to do something with health care and obesity in this country. This helps with both. I think if more employers start adopting something like this, it might cause a rise in people being more health-conscious. I think I would be very happy if I got that little extra reward. Besides, maybe, if more people adopted this incentive, there could be a more reliable means to determine health than by BMI. I think it's a good start. Report
My insurance is higher because I am over 50 but I think that is totally inaccurate to judge me by my age. I am in much better shape than many in their 30's and 40's who do not watch what they eat and never excercise. Lets get healthcare to charge each person according to their lifestyle and needs,( I certainly don't need maternity coverage) not some national average. Report
It's a great idea whose time has finally come. My employer has invested a lot of money in wellness for employees and I think it's very worthwhile. I've seen many people turn their health around because of this program. Report
I wish my employer did this. I would love to have another incentive to be healthy. Report
I would love to be rewarded for being responsible for controllable health issues. Bring it on. Report
I think it's a great idea!!! I know that if I hadn't been previously working on being healthier than the incentive of a higher discount would get me going! It's a win win for both the employer and the employee...the employee will be healthier therefore not missing as much work and it would boost productivity and the employee would not only have more self confidence but they also get to see more money in their pockets because of the discount for groceries!! Report
Big Brother, anyone? This is the proverbial slippery slope. Once employers feel they can monitor the lifestyles of their employees outside work we will all be on our way to a military state. Sure, the program is "optional" now, but that doesn't stop all the managers and co-workers from scoping each other out in the break room. I'm all for healthy living, but when monitoring starts in the workplace, only bad things can happen. I know I sound paranoid, and maybe it's because I read too much sci-fi as a kid, but this just REEKS of privacy invasion. Report
I love the idea of higher discounts to those who are taking better care of themselves. It is based on blood pressure, cholesterol, and nicotine use which for the most part are good indications of how you take care of yourself. I would suggest they go by waist line instead of BMI though which is suppose to be a better judge of health issues. http://health.usnews.com/usnews/hea

The National Institutes of Health recommends that men with waists measuring 37 inches or greater and women with waists larger than 31.5 inches modify their lifestyles to reduce their waists and resulting health risks. Report
I saw this on the news last week. Having been a retail employee for a lot of years any incentive is a good incentive because they are few and far between. That being said however, I kind of felt this one was a little lopsided. The people who need to get healthier the most should get the better percentage off or better yet everyone should get the same. In the long run Whole Foods will benefit from all their employees being heathy in lesser medical insurance costs. Report
I think incentives are a great idea but other measurements as well as BMI should be used. They should be looking at the big picture. Just because you're skinny doesn't mean you are healthy. Something needs to be done; not as punishment but as incentive to getting and staying healthy. You can still get sick and develope diseases even if you are "healthy". Report
Coming from someone who at this time is out of shape, I kind of like the idea. I am not a fan of BMI because when I was in shape my body fat was low but my weight was still higher than the standard for my height. Muscle weighs more than fat. But anything to help motivate people to live more healthy can't be that bad. Report
The premise for this particular situation has good intentions, but I think there should be different measurements used. But overall, I think programs like these are good for the company and the employee. It's a rare win/win situation. Report
I think it's a good idea. It helps people focus on their problems and adds incentives to adopt healthy life styles. People with unhealthy weights (yes, that means me) cost more in health care costs. Report
No, I don't think this is a good idea, because there are too many variables to a person's health than just weight or BMI. Besides this seems like borderline violation of HIPAA privacy laws. Report
To anyone who realizes this is somewhat unrealistic: I was raised by a mother who fed us what she liked and it was not a very healthy diet. I was a fat kid, who was teased to total embarassment in HS. That same mother then took me a doctor and got me on diet pills, which made me shed 50 lbs and turned me into a beauty! It also taught me the "easy way out". When eventually I could no longer get doctors to prescribe the diet pills to me, I went to street speed for weight control! Gradually, I saw how this was a VERY bad thing and that it was no longer something I wanted to do, along w/ cigarettes and other addictive behavior patterns. Over the yrs, I learned to eat healthy foods and learned how to eat to control myself, but I still have weaknesses for bad food. I have been drug free and cig free for 2 yrs ... but I got VERY fat in the 6 months right after; then I started a new life habit of exercise and food choices. However, I am still overweight by at least 40 lbs and it is hard as hell to get that weight off. My BMI is not good but I at least keep trying. Now, tell me, should I have to pay higher ins. rates just because I'm not perfect? I think I should get some kind of something for deciding to turn my life around now that I am over 50! But the fact that I have - is really reward enough for me. But don't turn around and penalize me for my past mistakes that have resulted into something sub-standard. Report
makes me nervous. although I am overweight i am pretty healthy except for an autoimmune disorder and i don't feel that i should pay more. making people pay more does not really help the situation because people are already having financial difficulties and this is just one more burden to add to them. Report
The idea is great in theory! Hell, I would love a nice discount like that at whole foods! But I think about a couple friends of mine that their health is not really good and they are skinny as a rail! I know what they have, and nothing they can really do about it. But still. Their BMI would probably call them severely underweight, and one has a problem even going hiking with me sometimes. Maybe they should at least rethink the BMI thing... Report
Wow, Dschondog. A lot of anger there. Perhaps you are fortunate enough to not have any of these diseases in your family tree. As it is, my entire family has/had diabetes. Both my parents had it.Granted, I did not control my weight which increased my chances of getting it. But what about my DH who has it and has never had a weight problem in his life. He is very thin and has hypertension and diabetes. Familial/race related. I think any incentive for us to be healthy is a good thing. You can choose health or not based on your own criteria. Right now, I am choosing a healthier life style. As for a Whole Foods store. I sure wish we had one here in the Lehigh Valley. Report
it think it is a great idea as it is optional. Report
Since this is an optional program, and since Whole Foods is still giving a generous 20% discount whether the employee participates or not, I think it's a great benefit, and I'd be happy to have something like that at my job! Report
An incentive is an incentive (and they are different for each individual)...but, it shouldn't be etched in stone. If companies want to offer one, they need to offer several...after all, their goal should be to create a healthier group. Report
This is just wrong...Are you going to encourage people to loose weight so they can get a discount of smaller sized clothes? Or how about loose weight so you can purchase your gas a low price...after all if you weigh less your car will require less fuel and you will contribute to the ecosystem. Come on - where is this going to go? Report
I don't think it's a good idea since there are times that we have no control over our health issues. Like having diabetes, I ate healthy and exercised yet I still ended up with type 2. And by the way DSCHONDOG, diabetics do not over eat their pancreas' ability to cover their glucose and that's the reason they ended up diabetic. Please check your facts before stating this. Report
As long as it is not a manadory program to be involved in, I think it is a wonderful idea. People should be rewarded for staying healthy......I also think those who are trying to get healthy (no matter how unhealthy they are) should be rewarded. Report
I think it's a great idea, if you do keep yourself healthy you are rewarded! Using underwater weighing (hydrodensitometry) for the initial measurement would alleviate the whole BMI issue. Report
Although BMI is not a perfect system, I do love the idea. I think it would work for most of the population. If someone is an exception, they can prove they are and be exempt from the BMI measurement. I am sick and tired of paying for lifestyle-based diseases. Smokers should pay when their cigerettes make them sick, diabetics should pay if they are diabetic because they've outeaten their pancreas' ability to cover their glucose. We live in a world of no consequences, but I believe I should have the right to refuse to be an enabler; I shouldn't have to support someone who is paving the road to their grave. Report
I understand what the detractors are saying, but I love it when people are rewarded for doing good things for their bodies. If BMI is the wrong measurement, then I'm sure Whole Foods will figure that out and substitute a better measurement. The point is that employees are encouraged to be healthier and can earn rewards for making improvements to their health. Good for Whole Foods! Report
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