Firms Give Cash for Healthy Habits
More Employers Providing Perks to Lose Weight, Get Fit
Companies may be tossing cash and other real incentives at you to get in shape, eat well and adopt healthy behaviors. Such perks are one more good reason to get off the couch and exercise, or to take better care of yourself.
The perks come in many forms: free gym memberships, gift cards, lower health insurance costs, Health Savings Account bonuses, prizes, free weight-loss or stop-smoking programs and even cash. Some companies launch team competitions around weight loss or other goals.
Why? It’s simple: rewarding people to live healthier is shown to reduce healthcare costs. The incentives are good for your wallet, but avoiding or delaying health problems reduces your costs too. So, what’s to lose but some unwanted pounds or bad habits?
Reasons Behind the Recent Trend
Average healthcare premiums have been going up at double and sometimes triple the annual rate of inflation, costing your employer big bucks. Your company takes a hit not only in those direct healthcare costs but also in lost productivity from employees on sick leave or who make it to work but don’t feel well enough to do their job right. So, 65 percent of firms that provide health benefits also offer wellness programs.
Americans who are overweight or have chronic illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and asthma cost the U.S. economy more than $1.3 trillion annually. Up to 70 percent of chronic illnesses are caused by behaviors—prompting employers to want to help their workers adopt healthier ways.
What Can You Expect?
Your employer may ask you first to take a health risk assessment, or HRA, which helps determine which wellness or disease management program (such as one to address diabetes or heart failure) best suit you. You can use the HRA to check your own health status and set your health goals. Know that there are laws protecting your health privacy. [Read HK's "Life Saver: Get Your Medical Records" and "Stand Up for Your Health Rights"].
Increasingly, employers are offering financial incentives for workers who complete an HRA or who participate in anti-smoking programs and other health or wellness programs.
Make sure you read the fine print about your incentive program. Check if you have to reach a goal before getting the reward or if you just need to try the program in good faith. And see, for instance, if there’s a penalty if you complete an anti-smoking program but start smoking again later.
Remember, you can do it if you set your mind to it. And, if you can get your coworkers to join you, it will be easier and more fun. [Read HK's "Let's Get Physical!" "Keep the Pounds Off" and "Kicking the Habit"].
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