Now it appears employers’ war on unhealthy employee habits is extending from smoking to eating. Back in May, HR Blunders ran a story, “Employees’ war on smoking goes ballistic.” In it, we recounted how Whirlpool Co. had suspended 39 workers who signed insurance documents that they didn’t use tobacco and were observed smoking on company grounds.
That story is one that drew a large number of comments, including:
- “I agree that smoking isn’t healthy. Neither is … eating too much … “
- “I believe obesity causes more health risks than smoking.”
- “Isn’t obesity just as much a health risk as smoking?”
- “How about the extremely overweight employee and their health problems?”
- “Next we will have employees weigh in and be measured to ensure that they have an ideal BMI (body mass index).”
The HR manager who made the last comment successfully predicted the future.
State workers in Alabama will have to start paying $25 a month for medical insurance that is otherwise free if they can’t get their BMI below 35.
Obese employees cost more
The screening for employees will start in January 2010.
If the screenings turn up serious problems with blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose or obesity, employees will have a year to see a doctor at no cost, enroll in a wellness program or take steps on their own to improve their health.
If they don’t improve sufficiently by January 2011, they must pay the $25 per month for insurance.
Alabama already charges its workers who smoke. That charge is $24 per month.
The state’s plan actually lets employees considered simply overweight and even some who are obese off the hook.
A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is considered normal. Less than 18.5 is underweight. Between 25.0 and 29.9 is overweight. Over 30.0 is obese. More than 35.0 is considered morbidly obese when combined with other health problems such as high blood pressure or cholesterol.
The state will spend an extra $1.6 million next year on screenings and wellness programs, but expects to see significant long-term savings.
Someone with a BMI of 35 to 39 generates $1,748 more in annual medical expenses than someone with a BMI less than 25.
Alabama is the first state to institute a program like this. State of Ohio workers get $50 for having health assessments and another $50 for following through with any advice given.
Arkansas and Missouri offer monthly discounts on premiums for employees who take risk assessments and participate in wellness programs to reduce obesity, stress and other health conditions.
If all this information about weight has made you curious about what constitutes being overweight or obese, a BMI calculator is available online for free.
What do you think about Alabama’s program? Does your company offer wellness programs? If so, what’s included? Let us know in the Comments section below.