Safeway: Healthier employees pay less

By Brian Dolan
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SafewayGrocery store chain Safeway gives employees discounts on their health insurance for having certain body mass indexes, quitting smoking, controlling hypertension or lowering their cholesterol, according to a report from National Public Radio this week. Safeway CEO Steve Burd told the radio network that his company's employees receive a discount on their health insurance if they have a body mass index (BMI) that is below 30, which is the cut-off at which people are considered obese.

"If it's above 30, that means they pay about $318 more than someone who is in the other camp," Burd told NPR. "But the beauty of our plan is that if you make a reduction of, let's say 10 percent of your body mass index, we write you a check at the end of the year for making that progress."

Burd claims that a recent internal survey showed about 78 percent of his employees rated the program either "very good" or "excellent". Burd also told NPR that on a per capita basis the company has kept its costs flat for the past five years, and that its incentive program should be replicated nationwide.

Critics of Safeway's incentive program point out that the cost savings have not been independently verified, but a spokesperson for the company recently stated that it had seen clear savings during the first year the program came into effect.

On the issue of who should pay for wireless health tools and services, Safeway presents an interesting case study. Employers are in a position to incentivize employees to manage their health better -- so why not include subsidies for wireless health tools to help them do it?

Of course, these programs have come under fire for seeming discriminatory, but Burd is unapologetic since he points out Safeway rewards employees for being healthy and does not penalize those who do not improve their health in terms of the metrics outlined. What do you think -- is this a carrot that could lead to wireless health tools' uptake?

For more, be sure to read or listen to the full NPR report here.