March 20, 2013 at 11:40 AM ET
CVS Caremark has put its employees on notice that they need to reveal their weight or pay a monthly $50 penalty.
“Avoid the $600 annual surcharge,” CVS warns its employees who use the company’s health insurance plan. They’ve been told they are required by May 1 to show up to a doctor for an annual WebMD Wellness Review and submit to tests for blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass and body weight.
“Going forward, you'll be expected not just to know your numbers - but also to take action to manage them,” the CVS policy states.
“There are no penalties based on the results of a wellness screening,” a CVS spokesman told NBCNews via email. “Choosing not to have a screening will result in a $50/month increase.”
While many employers have been pushing its workers to get healthier, it’s usually through incentives rather than penalties. “This is about as coercive and blunt as I’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Deborah C. Peel, the founder of Patient Privacy Rights, a nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas.
“Many employers want to do something for their workers, but very few of them are stupid enough to say give us the information and sign this form and say it’s voluntary,” Peel said.
Smokers working for CVS are also warned: “You must either be tobacco-free by May 1, 2014, or participate in the WebMD tobacco cessation program.” Defiant smokers can avoid penalties if they are healthy enough in other categories specified by the company.
Despite the company’s promises, Peel worries if CVS and WebMD will be able to keep the employee records completely private. Peel said people are already declining to get health treatment for issues ranging from psychiatry to sexual diseases, for fear the information will not be kept private.
In a statement, CVS said the employee health data will be kept private and it defended its new policy. CVS, which is based in Rhode Island, also said the company would never see the test results.
“The use of health screenings by employer-sponsored health plans is a common practice. According to a National Business Group on Health survey, 79 percent of employers offered a health assessment in 2011 and 76 percent of those employers offered incentives for completion. Also, 62 percent of large employers offered biometric screenings and 52 percent of those employers offered incentives for completion),’ the CVS statement reads in part.
“CVS Caremark is committed to providing medical coverage and health care programs for our colleagues and our benefits program is evolving to help our colleagues engage more actively to improve their health and manage health-associated costs. An initial step to accomplish this goal is a health screening and wellness review so that colleagues know their key health metrics in order to take action to improve their overall health, if necessary.”
WebMD did not immediately respond to a request to comment on its program.
The CVS policy was first reported Tuesday by the Boston Herald.