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

Tim Sackett Engagement and Satisfaction, Retention, Tim Sackett

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.