Workers' "biometric" health scores such as cholesterol levels and body-mass index are starting to have a direct bearing on the rewards they get from their employers' workplace wellness programs.

New survey results from the Kaiser Family Foundation on employer health benefits (see at: show that 69 percent of employers offer some type of wellness programs to workers. About 36 percent of large employers (200 or more workers) offer financial incentives for participation and 8 percent of small employers offer these incentives -- which can range from retail gift cares to bonuses to discounts on health insurance premiums.

As wellness programs emerged over the past decade, they typically offered perks to workers just for signing up or answering basic questions about their health. Or they linked workers with health problems such as smoking with resources to deal with those problems. But employers such as Allina Health in Minneapolis are turning toward financial incentives that reward workers who score better on health screenings and biometric tests.

The Kaiser survey showed, among large U.S. companies, that 55 percent offer biometric testing as a benefit. It also showed that 11 percent of large firms required workers to undergo biometrics testing in order to receive workplace health insurance and that 11 percent reward or penalize workers based on the results of those tests.

Allina, one of the largest providers of hospital and clinic services in Minnesota, has shifted its workplace wellness program to one that rewards healthier workers. Those who completed health screenings and biometrics tests -- a blood draw, cholesterol check and body fat measurement -- in 2012 received bonuses in their 2013 paychecks if they were in good health. Those in poorer health or who did not complete the screenings received no bonuses. Bonuses were also rewarded if spouses conducted the screenings, regardless of their outcomes.

This year, the program has been altered so that all workers and spouses who complete the biometrics testing in 2013 receive some form of reward in 2014 -- even if their test results show them in poor health.

"We found that there were some people who felt like, 'why should I even do it? I don't expect I'm going to get a good score,'" said Jodi Morris, an Allina benefits manager. "We really wanted to get everybody involved and participating."

The benefit definitely varies. Workers with the poorest health scores in 2013 will only receive $182 in credits in 2014, and spouses in poorer health will only receive $130 next year. By comparison, workers in top health will receive $1,017 and spouses will receive $676, according to an Allina brochure on its myHealthCheck program.

The goal is to use the financial rewards to motivate more workers to improve their health, Morris said. Allina will be tracking that annually by the number of workers who score in the top category of the rewards program.

Interestingly, this has become a sore point in labor negotiations. Unionized nurses at Allina do not participate in the reward program, though they are welcome to complete the screenings. The SEIU Minnesota union is also resisting this program as part of contract negotiations for 350 workers at Aspen Clinics, which were recently acquired by Allina.

In a press release last week, SEIU stated that "the major sticking point for workers is Allina’s demand to base health insurance benefits on biometric screening results like BMI, many of which discriminate based on genetic factors outside a person’s control."


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