CVS makes controversial move on health care

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CVS says it wants to encourage a healthy lifestyle for its employees.

Others think the Rhode Island pharmacy giant is making an unwelcome incursion into employees' private lives.

This week, CVS Caremark sent a letter to workers on its health plan that says they must submit to a physical, get weighed and have their blood pressure, body fat, cholesterol and blood sugar levels documented or face a $50 monthly penalty on their premiums.

CVS officials will not see the test results, which will go to a third party administrator for review. "Rather it is designed to help employees make the best decisions about their own health care," the company stated in a release.

"We want to help our employees to be as healthy as they can be, which is why we decided to implement this plan," wrote CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis in an email. "In fact, we have been working for a number of years on ways they can improve their health through preventive measures."

The plan has been criticized by privacy groups such as the Austin, Texas-based nonprofit Patient Privacy Rights as coercive. But a local benefits consultant said, "I don't find [the CVS program] unreasonable."

Employee benefits consultant James McTiernan of Triad, USA, Downtown, said many of his company's clients have incentive programs targeting employee health that may, for example, exclude workers who smoke from better health plans or charge them a higher premium.

The CVS plan "is different in the way it's presented, but it's really the same thing," said Mr. McTiernan. "All they're saying is that we need employees to be engaged and we think this is the best way to maximize the number of people who will be engaged.

"It's easy to spin it in a bad light, but they're just being aggressive."

Many companies have become more aggressive about keeping their workforce healthy to contain their own health care costs and limit employees' lost time due to illness.

"Rising health care costs are killing the economy, and businesses are terrified," Patient Privacy Rights founder Deborah Peel told the Boston Herald, which uncovered the CVS program. "Now, we're all in this terrible situation where employers are desperate to get rid of workers who have costly health conditions, like obesity and diabetes."

The CVS statement makes no mention of getting rid of employees.

Rather, Mr. DeAngelis said the program is meant "to encourage a higher level of participation in our wellness review. We reviewed best practices and determined that an additional cost for those who do not complete the review was the most effective way to incent our colleagues to improve their health care and manage health costs."

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Steve Twedt: stwedt@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1963.


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