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'Unhealthy' Workers May Face New Costs, Penalties For Health Care

BOSTON (CBS) --- It's the time of year when most workers start making their benefit selections for next year.

Many people could face new costs and penalties as companies try to drive down health care costs.

To do that, many companies are moving away from wellness programs that provide incentives for healthier behavior.

Instead, they are penalizing workers who might not submit health data or take certain tests.

Healthy and fit, Alex Ingram of Mission Hill doesn't think that is such a bad idea.

"I would rather pay less than someone who smokes and drinks consistently, versus me who is more athletic and engages in physical activity."

CVS ended up in the headlines for charging penalties to workers who wouldn't report their weight or body fat percentage.

Xerox is reportedly now screening employees for nicotine use, foregoing an honor system.

With overall health care costs having doubled over the past ten years, many companies are pinched.

After having negotiated with providers and insurers, companies are now forced to look at the employees.

"As health care costs continue to grow, the opportunities for companies to limit that costly impact are going to be fewer and fewer," said management consultant Elaine Varelas of Keystone Partners in Boston.

Ted Kyle of the Obesity Action Coalition believes these types of efforts will fail if corporations only focus on cost. He believes maintaining a healthy work environment should be the first priority, and that penalizing workers could get executives in trouble.

"Employers need to be very careful about discriminating against folks . . . the regulations for wellness programs very explicitly say wellness cannot be a subterfuge for discrimination."

While working out at the Boston Sports Club in Watertown, Luke Donohue asked whether his company will care if he eats a donut for breakfast.

"If they are going to be coming into my personal life and telling me I owe more because i do this or that, where does that end?"

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