Employee Benefits: The Less You Weigh, The Less You Pay?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
With health care costs rising more each day, employers are constantly looking for ways to lower their expenses and give employees incentives for healthy behaviors. Whole Foods has launched a new program for their employees called the Team Member Healthy Discount Incentive Program. All team members currently get a 20% discount on Whole Foods products. But now they will have the opportunity to get higher discounts (up to 30%) based on health measures like blood pressure and BMI. So the healthier you are, the more of a discount you'd be eligible to receive.

The program is totally optional, so anyone choosing not to participate will still get the standard 20% discount. In a letter to employees, CEO John Mackey outlined the details of the program. There are various discount levels: bronze, silver, gold and platinum based on an employee's blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and nicotine use.

This program is drawing a lot of criticism for a number of reasons. Opponents argue that BMI is not a good measure of health (since someone who is very healthy but muscular can have a high BMI). They also argue that controlling discounts based on health means that more "unhealthy" people won't get the same access to the healthy products Whole Foods sells- even though they might need them the most.

For many companies, I think the time has come to start getting creative to control health care costs. But is this a good way to go about it?

What do you think? Is this a good idea or does it make you uncomfortable?

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This is a great idea!! Those who maintain a healthy lifestyle should be rewarded. Report
I found myself double-sided on this one. But after scanning other comments and seeing a comment from a Whole Foods employee, it doesn't sound like this is a bad program and even sound motivational. Report
Because it is an optional program, it is a good deal. However, why not also provide rewards for people who are moving in the right direction?
I applaud companies that provide activities, incentives and venues for employees to become healthier.
I believe that the main concern is that companies might judge employees’ value in terms of their current health. I have been hearing buzz about companies that are considering having people pay higher health premiums based on health appearances; BMI, non-smokers. I would hope that this does not evolve into having companies penalize employees. If people pay premiums based on their health, what happens when you do become sick? Suddenly you would pay more out of pocket costs. Would you be looked at poorly? Would you risk being released simply because you might be getting older and maybe not as healthy as younger employees.
Maybe I am becoming overly sensitive on the subject. I read the article and little whisps of smoke came out of my ears but as I read the comments, I backed down. There are a lot of good comments about a company trying to do a good thing and being criticized for the attempt. They picked more than one criteria, they didn't have to do anything and, from what the one employee said; reaching a higher level is based on a combination of factors. It might even address the anorexic/bullemic and the stress junkies who create just as much of a drain on the health care system as the obese but rarely get he blame. Report
Whole Foods in my opinion is over-rated in general. They should reward employees for doing a great job. I don't shop there because their food is overpriced. My local Kroger store has a wonderful selection of reasonably priced organic fruit, veg, etc.
Whole Foods is just like Starbucks in my opinion, too expensive and a waste of money. But hey if you're rich and can afford it, who cares. Report
I think it's a great idea. Healthier people are a benefit to a company in so many ways: fewer sick days, better insurance premiums, better performance, etc. Report
At our company we've under gone a benefit changes over the past few years. We've got to earn points each year to keep our 'premium' benefits. If not we go into a passive plan that still exceeds most plans. Some people grumbled, but the premium plan has over 85% of the employees in it.

There aren't any concessions for being overweight, smoking or anything else. It's just to get employees to more pro-active in their health. Report
A great example of a company taking a proactive stance in health care.

-- Ralph Report
Look you get the discount either way. Why shouldn't a person who makes their health important and therefore makes themselves less of a burden on their employer and society be rewarded for it? Maybe if there were more monetary incentives for wellness people would make an effort. As it is, the threat of death isn't enough. Report
You go Whole Foods!!!! I support the innovative ideas that this company has in relation to employee health and wellness. I would love to be able to financially support a Whole Foods Market more often but the closest one to me is over an hour away. The more stuff like this that they do though the more trips there I will take. Love it! Report
The intent is good but it seems that the execution could be scary. It sounds a bit big brotherish to me. Not to mention discriminatory. Do they even hire people that don't fit the profile? Report
I think it's a great idea, as long as it's completely voluntary. Everyone gets the standard 20%, and those who want the additional motivational factor can choose to shoot for more.

No one, even a Whole Foods employee, NEEDS to shop at Whole Foods to get healthy food - fresh and frozen produce, for instance, is cheaper from many, many other sources, so the argument that "overweight people" need the greater discount is just bogus.

So is the confidentiality argument, since the program's voluntary, and based on measurements that the enrollee can choose. Don't like it? Don't participate. Report
I agree with JAMILU919, who said, "I think it should be more habit and action centered rather than a function of a number on the scale." The supermarket chain could base employee food discounts on how many Spark Points they have earned. That would be more fair to people with higher blood sugar, body mass, and cholesterol levels. Health insurance premium discounts could follow the same program. Report
I think it's a good idea...everyone gets the 20% and if they choose to partipate they can earn more....I think it's time to get creative on incenting people/employees to live a healthy lifestyle...at least they are trying something new! Report
It is optional program. I think it is a step in the right direction because people are motivated by different things. If this motivates a couple people to stop smoking or watch what they eat, who are we to judge. Report
Heredity is such a big part of health. I have always been overweight according to height and weight charts and yet my numbers for other health wellness have always been great. I have been blessed with good family genes. My grandmother was told once when she was 85, active, and overweight, according to the "chart" that there are 45 year olds that would kill for her numbers. I think companies should always strive to help employees be healthy. Smoking is the biggest one that people have control over. Offer smoking cessation classes and provide a discount for that. I smoked for many years, but I took control, no excuses and quit. Report
I think in theory it is a good concept, but has some flaws. There is more to being unhealthy than being overweight. It sounds like this focuses on that and smoking, but it is a start. Overweight people are (supposedly) lazy and unmotivated, but it is okay and actually encouraged by society to be underweight which is just as unhealthy. And doesn't everyone know at least one person who is a healthy weight and barely or never exercises? I think it should be more habit and action centered rather than a function of a number on the scale.

I am guessing it would be harder to implement, but perhaps it would be encouraging healthy behavior to give the increased discount for all fresh fruits and veggies to support health improvements for all, not just those that are already healthy. Report
I think having something at work would be great. I work for a major courier-freight forwarder - customs broker in Canada - they put out information that people should eat healthy, exercise etc, but when we approach them about having a weight loss support group, they say that they'll look into it and we never hear back. (All talk and no action) It's too bad that more companies don't offer an incentive to losing weight and getting healthy. I find that physical support is very important and if we had a group at work that gave support, allowed us weigh-ins and allowed us to talk about various health topics would be fantastic. In my facility, there's close to 250 people - probably about 20% at least have some sort of a weight problem and if we had the support, we'd be thrilled. Report
This idea is really alarming! First, whatever happened to patient confidentiality? Secondly, being overweight is really a bad thing to the person's body, but even those at target weight have medical issues too. For instance, thyroid disease is one of the most common diseases today, and research has shown it is the underdiagnosed disease. Just because you are at target weight and don't have a diagnosed illness, doesn't mean you are healthy.

If I were to have cancer, and through the treatment, I were to lose to the target weight--would my premium drop? Or would I still pay a higher premium because I am ill?

And by the way--I do buy and prepare foods so I can eat healthy, and I do exercise. I don't smoke nor drink. Yet, due to genetics, I have some issues over which I have no control.
I would be concerned about my employer having access to health information about me. I'm Canadian and we enjoy provincial health benefits plus additional benefits through our employer. Report
I think it's a good idea. We are not talking huge extra discounts. It's optional. Yes BMI is a flawed tool but they are probably using a general healthy range. I just think it encourages health and applaud the company. Report
I think it's a great idea and applaud John Mackey for helping his employees while helping the bottom line. Although BMI is not the perfect measurement, it is certainly a start in the right direction. Employees who don't want to participate for whatever reason still get the usual discount so nothing is being taken away from them. I think a bigger discount is a good motivator, and is just the beginning of some great health oriented things that John Mackey will be offering his employees in future. Now if he would only pass those discounts onto his customers . . . . :-) Report
Leonalioness, saw your Spark page and want to say, keep up the good work and you & Aaron are an adorable couple. Mainly I want to say, thank you so much for clarifying the stance Whole Foods is taking in trying to help their employees get motivated. I think it's a GREAT idea and wish we had that type of incentive where I work. Heck I also wish Whole Foods had a store closer to my city instead of 20 minutes away. Report
Not being a US citizen, I cannot comment. However, I'm very glad I live in a country where everyone gets good medical advice and treatment - and no forms to fill in. Report
For me this would be an incentive. I wish there was a Whole Foods near me on many levels..Good for them.. Report
Oh for pete's sake, people! I work at Whole Foods and the employees are generally excited about this program. What you don't know is that the different levels take into account different levels of fitness. For instance, to get a 22% discount your BMI just has to be under 29 with fair numbers in the blood pressure and cholestrol. Only the platinum level (which I hope to hit) has you needing to be under 24 BMI, 110/70 blood pressure, low/healthy cholestrol and non-smoking. The different ranges mean that a wide range of people will see an increased discount.

It's OPTIONAL and there isn't any penalty for not doing the screening. If you opt out OR don't meet requirements you still get the same awesome 20% discount you always did. It's just an incentive to walk our talk and have the employees eating right and exercising. We promote ourselves as a healthy company with good quality, nutritious food. Having healthy TMs helps us put our money where our mouths are, so to speak.

I haven't heard a single TM complain about this. The ones who know they won't meet requirements aren't complaining, they are saying "hey, I'm going to follow this FREE healthy eating plan WFM is providing, I'm going to quit smoking/cut my meat consumption/start exercising"... and that's a super wonderful thing!

Oh, and they are doing caliper body fat testing since the physicians doing the (free, company provided) biometric screens realize BMI is not a perfect system. So simmer down already. Sheesh. Report
As somone who is working hard everyday for months now to become a healthier person I would be motivated by this incentive. However, I have a LONG way to go to reach a "healthy" BMI, so a big part of me sees this as almost an unobtainable goal. It is definitely a conundrum! Report
I agree the BMI is not a good thing to look at , however it IS a start for alot of folk. I like that Dr. Oz, uses your waist measurement for a BIG clue in where you are at weight wise. Really though, I think if more companies actually cared about their employees health, they would do this for the health of it, and not just to benefit the employer!.... Report
I think incentives for employees, and wellness programs are a good idea. However, I think that measures other than bmi should be used, like measurements etc. I think they've got the right idea, but there should be guidelines to encourage and promote a healthier lifestyles in general. Some places have
gyms. And insurance companies certainly encourage peopleto be healthier. After all it's been proven healthier people are sick less, & usually incur less medical expenses. I hope it doesn't discourage those who are working on living healthier, but rather inspires them if it's presented in the right way. I guess time will tell. Report
I think they have the right idea, but I do agree that it makes it a little more unfair for those who are not quite as healthy, but trying hard to get there. But then, again, it could give them incentive to continue to work hard to be more healthy. I don't know if I agree with the things that are being used to indicate good health, mainly the BMI... Report
I think it is interesting how many people seem to think this is discriminatory. It's not discrimination to offer incentives. You may not agree with the decisions they've made, but it doesn't make for discrimination. My health plan offers a $100 discount on gym memberships. I choose not to use the gym and exercise outdoors. So I don't get the $100. That's disappointing but not discrimination.

I think it's great that they are using incentives to encourage people to be healthy. They chose BMI as one measure and a lot of people disagree with that. Another option might be to present a finishing time from a running race. If you can do a 10K, you get a bigger discount. There are lots of ways that this could be structured, but I like that that are trying to encourage employees to be healthier! Report
Personally I feel that this is an infringement on our rights as human beings and citizens. Health is personal, and just like drinking (remember the prohobition?!?) while overeating certainly isn't good for you, the goverment and/or private businesses should never have the right to tell us how to eat and live. Report
I think it should be tested & tried - hitting people in the pocket is the best way to make them respond! Report
Good heavens no.....in our house DH is slim with heart and mouth cancer. I am plump with perfect test results at Dr. Provide wellness and whole foods to encourage healthy workers. Period Report
It is a good way to encourage employees to be mindful of their health. Perhaps they should offer gym and nutritional counseling for other employees who would like to improve their health to the point they qualify. As for measuring what is "healthy" - it's true BMI by itself is not reliable - perhaps they should do the water tank to see what percentage of the body is fat and how much is muscle? Just kidding. That's the part that's problematic - maybe a combination of bmi, cholesterol levels, heart rate, blood pressure, etc.? Report
I think it is very discriminatory--------and might create discontent within the employees.-----which is not a good situation for business. Report
I don't know if this is the "best" way but any way a company can encourage people to live better is good. My husband's organization is big enough to self insure and they do annual health screenings etc to encourage healthier living. Unfortunately, there are still way too many overweight and out of shape. My husband took some heat when he voted to make the people pay a little more for their health insurance hoping they might have a bigger stake in healthy living. Report
I think it is great when a company wants to reward their employees for healthy living.. it not only helps insurance costs but also helps company costs as people are not out as often due to illnesses related to unhealthy living... our superintendent gives us an hour voucher if we exercise (i.e. we walk) daily during the work week... it is great, especially after a rough week and you can go home an hour early... nothing related to my BMI, related to exercising!! Report
I know from my own experience now that I can afford healthier food I am able to work on losing weight. I have lost 28 pounds just by being able to shop for food that is lower in fat and fruits and veggies. Report
I know from my own experience now that I can afford healthier food I am able to work on losing weight. I have lost 28 pounds just by being able to shop for food that is lower in fat and fruits and veggies. Report
I disagree because as a very muscular person I will always have a higher BMI but if you have ever seen me, you will know that I don't look my weight. No one has ever been able to guess my weight. When I have worked with trainers they had to use lighter weights and sometimes even no weight to work with me so that I wouldn't bulk up. So this program would be unfair to someone like me. My goal weight will not put me in the normal range for a BMI but I would probably be able to wear a size 6. How many people who wear a size 6 would be considered overweight if they are 5'7"? Report
this is simply discrimination in hiding. i have lost 100 lbs but am still in the overweight level of bmi. i exercise everyday and eat healty most of the time. with this i would be really penalized for trying . incentives are great but they should be based on fair effort not results. Report
Interesting... I think it's a good idea. It's a step in the right direction at least. Report
I'm not sure BMI is a good indicator, but it is a standard measure. It's much harder to measure "healthy" within a grocery store setting.

Plus, keep in mind that this incentive program is for their store discounts! As far as the concerns about chronic health problems, keep in mind that noone is being denied any discount - they are just hoping to spur a little healthy activity in their employees. Report
I think we need more incentives to get healthy. Frankly, I'm quite tired of paying for others' health care coverage--especially those who engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking. We are fortunate to have excellent health coverage through our employer. However, they MAKE money off of my family of five, because we rarely use the HMO services. My kids only go to the doctor about once a year for sickness. I paid out of pocket to have my children born at home (a far healthier alternative for us). Yet, now when we do try to use services, such as physical hand therapy for my musician daughter, I get the runaround from insurance and health care providers. There has to be a better way! Report
In principle, a great idea. But there are many overweight people who are healthy and fit. It's possible even for an obese person to be healthier or fitter than some slim folk. It'd be better to reward effort, but bear in mind those employees who are already ill. They were maybe taken on to fulfil a "quota" for no-discrimination, but they are entitled to equal consideration.
Maybe a more flexible type of initiative which could take inequalities into account, like time off with pay for someone with a chronic disease, for some sort of appointment or treatment; and an equivalent amount of time off with pay or a paid attendance at a gym for some others, or a paid-for appointment with a clinical dietician for yet others. Report
My company deposits a set $ amount in a health fund (up to a certain cap each year) to people who participate in activities such as certifying they are nicotine-free, logging exercise (by uploading pedometer steps) to a website, and taking a health/wellness survey - these are all actions that are in the employees control, they can choose to participate or not and they are not punished for not participating. I think that is a better way to go than this. Incentivizing healthy behavior rather than punishing unhealthy "characteristics". Report
Just as the height/weight charts were not an accurate measures, the BMI chart has it's drawbacks as well. A person who has more muscle mass on their frame is going to fall into a higher BMI scoring them as unhealthy. The TRUE measure of health is BODY FAT! The higher your body fat reading, the higher your risk of disease. Report
I have an idea. Let's do something about the corporate greed that runs this countrys medical and insurance industry. I am all for single pay insurance. Report
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