fat.jpgI was a meeting on health care reform in Wilmington, DE, yesterday and U.S. Senator Thomas Carper, a Democrat representing the state, was on hand to tell us what was in store given the new legislation.

There’s so much in the law that bits and pieces have been coming out slowly, but one key part that caught my interest yesterday was discounts for employees who get healthy, up to 30 percent off their insurance premiums, the senator said.

Carper, a trim man who’s often seen jogging around Wilmington, seemed very excited about this provision in reform. If you lose weight, or bring down your blood pressure, he said, you can get a break on your insurance.

But what about the unhealthy workers among us who struggle with weight and medical issues? Is offering breaks on insurance, or financial rewards of any kind, actually a sneaky tax on the fat and unhealthy among us?

There are some people out there who have medical conditions that make it very hard for them to lose weight. And I know several people close to me with persistent high blood pressure that they’ve struggled for years trying to keep down.

If someone has a health issue that’s covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, then this part of health care reform could run afoul of the law if it’s not implemented correctly. The law does spell out, according to this story in a Mississippi medical publication, that such discounts should not discriminate against individuals but it opens up a big, fat can of worms.

Most workers want to keep their medical conditions to themselves as much as possible, but suddenly they may be forced to have to explain why they’re not taking walking breaks at lunch like everyone else, or not slimming down.

Things are only going to get worse folks, because there’s a perfect storm brewing when it comes to your health and your employer’s bottom line. The bad economy is actually making some people eat more and experience more health problems, at a time when companies are trying to cut their huge health care expenses.

Penalizing unhealthy workers is nothing new in Corporate America, and the wellness mantra is only intensifying.

A survey of about 500 HR and benefit executives by professional services firm Towers Perrin found:
* 50 percent of companies have or will introduce or increase investments in wellness and health promotion in 2009 and 2010.
* 32 percent have or will introduce or increase financial incentives for wellness or health promotion activities in 2009 and 2010, and another 30% are considering this action.

And employers are upping the ante on employee pressure to shape up:
* 45 percent say they will or are considering introducing or increasing penalties for nonparticipation in wellness or health promotion activities.

That kind of pressure, however, makes some employee advocates uncomfortable, and there are strict federal guidelines employers have to follow when crafting such weight management programs.

“We need to make sure overweight and obese employees, who are already vulnerable to stigma in the workplace, are not stigmatized even further,” stresses Rebecca Puhl, coordinator of weight stigma initiatives at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

And labor attorney Hanan Kolko maintains: “employers shouldn’t be our mothers. Workers ought to have the right to be left alone.”

Unfortunately, given the crisis our nation’s facing when it comes to escalating health care costs, employees seem to be right in the line of fire.

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