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Are Wellness Programs Any Good?

Jul 2010
Policy Brief
By  Damon Jones
If you or someone you know are one of the many Americans looking to re-enter the labor force, do not be surprised if during a job interview a potential employer includes a question about whether or not you smoke. Many companies are now penalizing employees for costly behaviors such as smoking: PepsiCo charges an annual smoker surcharge on health insurance premiums of $600 (Petrecca 2009). Employers are also encouraging other types of health-related behavior. At firms such as Safeway, the amount that employees pay for their health insurance depends on how well they do on health exams. Those who are able to lose weight, lower their blood pressure, or reduce their cholesterol level will be rewarded with discounts on their health care premiums (Doyle 2010). These types of incentives are examples of wellness programs: workplacebased efforts that enhance awareness, change behavior, and create environments that support “good” health practices (Aldana 2001). Such programs are becoming commonplace as employers struggle to keep up with exploding health care costs. Indeed, wellness programs are set to become even more prominent in 2014, when the recently signed health reform law will increase the maximum amount that employers can offer to encourage participation. These programs have the potential to curtail rising health costs, but whether or not this is true remains an open empirical question.