Big Brother Says: Attention Workers – Get Healthy or Else!

I love companies that have had enough and aren’t going to take it anymore (Network clip). I also love listening to the workers, of said company, complain about how their company is “being intrusive” because they are being “forced” to take care of themselves.  Last month in the Wall Street Journal, an article entitled When All Else Fails: Forcing Workers Into Healthy Habits uncovers the latest employer, AmeriGas Propane Inc., which gave its employees an ultimatum: get their medical checkups or lose their health insurance.  Isn’t that wonderful!  Here is an employer who loves its people so much, they want to make sure they are going to be healthy and actually survive to collect their paycheck. Talk about employee engagement.

So, what is wrong with this?  Well, let’s just hear from one skeptical AmeriGas employee: Big brother

“Dennis Price Sr., a 48-year-old propane-truck driver in the company’s Warrenton, Va., office, says he was “a little shocked” by the idea at first. “I thought it was an invasion of our privacy,” he says. Mr. Price had never gotten his cholesterol checked, and generally avoided doctors.”

Sounds like he’s taking his god-given-all-American right to be unhealthy – nothing wrong yet. What say the unions?

“Labor officials say they object to the idea of mandated health tests. “This is a personal health matter,” says Gerry Shea, assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO. “To bring it into the workplace and tie it to benefits is inappropriate. It’s like Big Brother.”

Sounds like more god-given, all-American wisdom – boy I can smell the apple pie cookin’! What about management?

“Despite these efforts, Mr. Katz (VP of HR) and benefits director Carol Guinan found themselves in April 2007 chewing over some unpalatable numbers. Besides annual health-expense increases of 10% or more, the company, which self-insures its health plan, had paid more than two dozen insurance claims in the previous year for amounts greater than $100,000. Its workers had high rates of diabetes and heart disease.

The program, dubbed Operation Save-A-Life, was unveiled in August 2007 and took effect the following January. Each worker received a DVD at home to explain the effort and discuss cost and health statistics. One fact: AmeriGas employees younger than 60 were dying of natural causes at nearly three times the expected rate for that age group based on actuarial data.

AmeriGas estimates that more than 90% of its workers have gotten the required exams. Use of cholesterol drugs rose 13.6% in 2008 from a year earlier. For diabetes drugs, the increase was 7.7%, and for asthma medications and blood-pressure medicines, it was 7.4% and 2.5%, respectively.”

Damn management – they always have more to say and have all those fancy numbers!

The article, also, points out two specific examples of the screens catching one employee’s breast cancer, self-admittedly, earlier then she ever would have caught it herself. Also, the screens caught another employee who had liver disease and was able to reverse the effects by early detection.

I know there is a gray area here where companies can go overboard, but in today’s competitive world for talent, you can’t tell me that most companies aren’t trying to do the right thing.  Is making your employees go get a health screen a bad thing?  Probably not. Is firing them because they have high cholesterol after the screen a bad thing? Depends on their performance…  Just kidding… the fact of the matter is we have a broken healthcare system and most employers have to do something to reduce costs. So they can either interview under the precursor “does this person look young and healthy”, or we can allow them some slack to help make their own workforce a bit more healthy.

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Tim Sackett
Tim Sackett SPHR, is the ultimate Mama’s Boy!  After 15+ years of successfully leading HR and Talent Acquisition departments for Fortune 500s and smaller technical firms, Tim took over running the contingent staffing firm HRU Technical Resources in Lansing, MI. Serving as the Executive Vice President, Tim runs the company his mother started over 30 years ago, and don’t tell Mom, but he thinks he does a better job at it than she did!  Check out his blog at Because he's got A LOT to say, and FOT just isn't enough for him.


  1. Jeff says:

    I have done this at my self-insured company also: we require the annual physical or employee pays 100% of the cost of benefits. A private company does physicals and bloodwork on site and on company time, free to the employee. (99% compliance). Each employee receives a score of 1-100 based on the results, company does NOT know the individual scores (HIPAA). Next year, if they get 70 or above OR increase their score 5 points, they get $ off their insurance next year. We then provide wellness programs (contests, health coach, weight watchers, quit smoking, diabetes classes, etc) to help them earn the discount. Hopefully next year our average score will increase, indicating we are getting healthier, and claims experience will follow. But we also already have quite a few stories of major health problems avoided. If we can’t control our health care costs, our entire US business model is threatened.

  2. Maybe the company will make you wear deodorant, ensure that you use the right kind of toilet paper, and tell you how to raise your kids. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
    Big corporations are no better than big government. If you want to stifle innovation and create co-dependencies in the workforce, support employer-based insurance and wellness programs.

  3. Evan Falchuk says:

    This is certainly one of the hottest trends at larger employers.
    They are on the hook for health expenses and so want to do whatever they can to help employees be healthier.
    I did a survey earlier this year of 100 senior benefits executives at major US companies and collected some very interesting data. You can read review the webinar which went over the data in detail on my blog.
    All the information is free, so please give it a look here:
    Thanks for the excellent post.
    Evan Falchuk

  4. Tim Sackett says:

    Laurie – So what ur saying is I should just keep my trap shut and let Big Daddy sitting next to me in the cube eat 4 Big Macs per day and smoke 13 lbs of tobacco free filter – while my premiums go up 25% per year?! Or maybe we can have cool corporate style survival games where the fittest get to keep their jobs and get higher promotions…oh wait – we call that performance management.

  5. I think we should look at the real problem: commercialization of our food industry, too much corn in our diets, too many addictive ingredients in our food, and no time to cook or slow down because we’re working harder than ever for less money.
    Wellness programs are a distraction, and I’m getting frustrated by corporate health care, corporate wellness programs, and corporations that make money on us when we’re fat *and* when we’re thin.
    It’s disgusting to me.
    Want fatty to lose some weight? Want Suzy coworker to stop smoking? Kill the profit incentive for corporations to keep us fat and addicted.

  6. birkenstock says:

    Thanks I got up this morning and feel fine, because I received a gift from my parents.I am happy.
    Thanks for god giving me a beautiful day..

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