Required Reading for State Health Plan Officials

They might choose to huff over today’s News and Observer editorial decrying the soon-to-be implemented involuntary workplace chemical cheek swabs and weight testing. (Fail and state employees and their families are on the hook for thousands of dollars more a year in health care costs sharing and fees.)

They’ve already ignored the state employees themselves when they reneged on their promises to hold public hearings and hear employee concerns before they implemented any plan.

But they should at least make time to sit down and read “Financial Penalties for the Unhealthy? Ethical Guidelines for Holding Employees Responsible For Their Health” that appears in Health Affairs, the respected journal of health policy. The article’s subtitle says it all: “Penalty programs must offer employees fair and equal opportunities to improve their health.” Steven D. Pearson and Sarah R. Lieber survey the spectrum of worksite wellness programs and come up with some commonsense guidelines for evaluating such efforts.

Unfortunately, the State Health Plan’s program fails on most recommendations cited by Pearson and Lieber. Employee input? Nope. Consideration of other unhealthy behavior like excessive alcohol consumption? Nope. Transparent process? Nope. Excessive magnitude of penalties unfair to lower-paid employees? Yes.

I’ll note too that although Pearson and Lieber advocate better-constructed wellness programs even they admit that any financial savings from wellness programs are “anecdotal.”

The failure of leadership on this issue by the NC State Health Plan is an embarrassment. The go-it-alone approach adopted by the Plan has resulted in a ridiculous, unfair, and discriminatory “wellness” program that is the most punitive in the nation, has attracted widespread criticism and whose main effect will be to simply shift thousands of dollars in health costs to state employees and their families.

Respecting state employees starts with a wellness program based on ethical, fair principles. To do this, state plan officials need to scrap their current efforts and start again.

One Comment

  1. Alex

    October 12, 2009 at 9:33 am

    The State Plan is in a Spiral of Death. Cost go up so they raise the out of pocket expenses and do away with plan choices. More families drop out so they raise out of pocket expenses and limit plans. The anti smoking and anti obesity measures are only nails in its coffin. The out of pocket medical costs for state worker’s are not sustainable. I worked for a BCBS and I can’t understand what the plan covers and does not. I have read all the different booklets from BCBSNC and am baffled by the fine print.