Barbara Ludwig leaned over her desk one morning and confided that she could lose a little weight.
How much?, I asked.
"About 30 pounds."
Ludwig knows the eyes of her employees are upon her. She is the Benton Co., Ark. Human Resources Director, and the woman in charge of forcing county workers to get healthy or else. In Benton Co., which is home to Wal-Mart, every out-of-shape worker will have to change or pay more for health insurance.
The county raised its annual deductible from $750 in 2004 to $2,750 in 2005 because, as Ludwig explained, it really had no choice.
"I have to tell you our plan was hemorrhaging. It was about a bottom line issue," she said. "but it was an employee bottom line."
So the county built an incentive into its health care plan enabling county workers to cut their payments to as low as $500 if they were able to pass a yearly test that involved cholesterol readings, blood sugar and other indicators along with blood pressure. Nicotine was banned.
Don Sinquefield was a big college football star -- a very long time ago. Today he has diabetes and is planning to staple part of his stomach because he has ballooned from a playing weight of 185 pounds to about 375 on a good day.
He says he was spurred on by the county's get healthy or else program. He is "absolutely" grateful for the push and is looking forward to his discount.
So too is Kym Jackson, who is literally unrecognizable from the 280 pound behemoth she was just a couple of years ago. Today Kym has lost more than 100 pounds and is continuing to reduce. Her desk drawer, which used to brim with candy and all manner of unhealthy snacks is now practically an advertisement for eating healthy.
But Kym and several other workers we spoke to were initially skeptical, seeing the county plan as intrusive. She's a convert now, but in our trip to Arkansas we saw plenty of others who remain opposed. The smokers, the obese, the unhealthy.
For them, being fat is going to cost them.
Barbara Ludwig is undeterred. She points to the numbers. Before the plan went into effect, the county health care fund was nearly $500,000 in the red. Seventeen months after taking effect, the fund was nearly $1 million in the black.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.