OP-ED

How the Media Portrayed the CVS Wellness Program-and Got It Wrong

On March 20, 2013, the media picked up a story about CVS Caremark’s latest wellness program. In summary, CVS will be requiring all of its employees to complete a health screening in order to qualify for a reduction in their health insurance premium. For those employees who participate, the employee’s screening data goes to a third party, and CVS never sees it.

Such wellness financial incentives are commonplace and have been around a long time. And if that is how the media had described the CVS program, it’s doubtful anyone would have even paid any attention to it. Unfortunately, that’s not how the media ran with the story. Let’s look at how the media sent the wrong message – using ABC News as an example – and why it matters to get the message right.

Sending the Wrong Message

ABC’s Good Morning America segment was emblazoned with the headline, “Who’s Watching Your Weight – CVS Employees Required to Disclose Weight.” Their website ran a similar headline, “CVS Pharmacy Wants Workers’ Health Information, or They’ll Pay a Fine.”


Those headlines are provocative – but they’re completely misleading. Employers do NOT look at their employees’ weights, and they’re not about to start doing so. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), it is illegal for an employer to know an employee’s weight or any other personal health information. While ABC did mention that the data goes to a third-party wellness vendor, this fact is glossed over so quickly that it does little to change the overwhelmingly negative nature of the headline.

ABC posted the following statement below the segment’s online video: “New policy makes it mandatory for employees to report personal information to keep health insurance.” The word “mandatory” is misleading here, and the employer is NOT getting the employee’s health information. In short, ABC has thoroughly confused the matter. No viewer or reader could be reasonably expected to know what to take away from this story.

You can guess where it went from there. More media outlets picked up the CVS story, and Twitter caught fire with people mad at CVS. So what’s the big deal? Isn’t this just the way the media always acts, and shouldn’t we ignore it? No, because wellness is important in the context of a nation that wants to get healthier, and contrary to the tone of the media coverage, both employers and employees have a similar stake in the matter.

Wellness Matters

We can’t lose sight of the following critical point: employers that are making substantial contributions to their employees’ healthcare premiums have a vested interest in trying to foster a healthier workforce. It’s not just the employee who feels the pain of escalating premium costs; when the employer is making a significant contribution, the employer is feeling it too. Within the next decade, the obesity rate could pass 50% or higher. Future insurance costs could get much worse unless we find ways to make wellness work.

Many companies, and CVS is just one of countless examples, are trying to build effective wellness programs and reward employers who participate. The incentives are important for encouraging participation. For now, employers and employees are in this together. What’s the alternative? Unfortunately, some employers will wash their hands of the insurance business entirely, and leave employees to fend for themselves. And for many Americans, that will be much worse than being asked to participate in a wellness program in exchange for better insurance contributions.

A Healthy Debate is Progress

That doesn’t mean that all wellness programs or wellness incentives are created equal. And without a doubt, there is a debate worth having here. The issues of healthcare payment, responsibility, privacy, and rights are complex and the stakes are important. But the media’s portrayal did everyone a disservice by spreading misconceptions and portraying corporate wellness as something only Big Brother could dream up. Progress can’t be made if people don’t even understand the issues.

To ABC News and the other media outlets that portrayed wellness strategies in such a negative light, we hope that you will reconsider your approach to wellness and produce a piece that has real value. One that acknowledges the complex relationship between the cost of insurance, the rights of those who pay for that insurance, and the impact of unhealthy lifestyles on driving those costs up. What are the rights of the employer versus the rights of the employee? Where do the lines get drawn? We invite the media to join the conversation, rather than crank out hasty tabloid headlines.

And to CVS, we congratulate you on promoting and rewarding wellness in your organization. We congratulate the growing number of companies that are taking wellness seriously, exploring the shared role of the employer and the employee in health and insurance costs, and whose efforts will continue to uncover the strategies that work best.

Note: beBetter is NOT the provider of the CVS wellness program. We have no affiliation with CVS or the vendor that provides its wellness services.

Greg Juhn is the Senior Vice President of Product Strategy and Marketing at beBetter Health, Inc. You can reach him at greg.juhn@bebetter.net.

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Williamabc pharmacyhttp://www.sintestrn.org.br/sinplate/components/book2/book2.php?2018clclick hereTheSkeptic Recent comment authors
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William
Guest
William

As everyone else pointed out penalizing an employee $600 a year for not allowing the corporate masters to invade our privacy and dictate our lifestyles does not make for an incentive, much less make it voluntary. Sorry but how i live my life is my business. The only time and employer has a right to dictate anything to anyone… Is while the employees are on the clock. Once an employee clocks out, the employer should just mind their own friggin business. My personal life is just that… PERSONAL!!! Ill be damned if i let any employer dictate how i live… Read more »

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Yesterday, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive a 30 foot drop, just so she can be a
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TheSkeptic
Guest
TheSkeptic

Ethics and morals are seen as a quaint relic in the American corporation and executives have all the incentive (bonuses for saving money) and none of the risk for misusing this information to get rid of workers with costly health problems.
Sure, there is a law against it but the only people ever prosecuted are low-level clerks.

We live in an age in which business schools teach that the only responsibility of a corporate officer is to make profits. This kind of program is the logical outcome.

Lisa
Guest

This article is well-written and informative. However, there is one major error. CVS will NOT be lowering any insurance premiums for employees who submit their health information. Instead, employees will have their insurance premiums increased by $600 per year if they do not submit this information. I should know. I am a CVS employee.

Samir Batra
Guest
Samir Batra

Greg, Very nicely put. This is a topic that seriously needs attention. ABC is doing what media loves to do – create a story. I wish they had enticed people to click on the article and then actually spoke the truth. As far as wellness programs that promote an employee to manage their healthcare is the way to go. I mean I do not understand why more employers are not doing this! I mean is it not obvious to them that healthier employees would promote lower healthcare costs? I know organizations like Whole Foods do great work around this. Great… Read more »

Jean
Guest
Jean

Two things: First, I am guessing that, given your bio, you work for a company that provides said “third-party” services. That makes you a little biased in this debate, don’t you think? Second, employers put more and more of the financial responsibility on employees with each passing year. So, although you claim that their investment is substantial, I would beg to differ. Again, I think your employment most likely shades your opinion on this matter. Let’s face it, Americans pay through the nose for health insurance. We do not want to be further penalized because we have privacy concerns and… Read more »

Greg Juhn
Guest

Certainly, I have a bias. Everyone has a bias – or more accurately, a collection of biases. My main bias is in helping employers construct wellness programs. I don’t have a strong bias toward the incentive structure the employer comes up with, as every company is different.

I’ve noticed a lot of people equating these corporate actions with governmental “nanny state” regulations. Well, if you don’t want companies doing this sort of thing, guess what you will need – more government regulations.

Tim B
Guest

Well lets be honest about things. First of all, a $50 increase in healthcare cost for not participating is NOT an “incentive” its a penalty. An “incentive” would be a decrease in exisisting premiums in exchange for participating. In all reality there is no incentive, your healthcare cost will stay the same, it will only go up if you choose to exercise your right to privacy. And also, its not “voluntary” when you force a $600 penalty per year for not participating. People in todays world can not afford $600 per year, so its basically forced and not voluntary. And… Read more »

Bon Scotch
Guest
Bon Scotch

I work for CVS. There is so much mis-info in this article and others like it, I do not know where to begin. Let’s dissect this article. “79% of large employers incorp health assessments in their health care plans”. Define “large company”. Give some examples. Name your source for “the study” of large companies. I have no problem with using health assessments to anylize costs. What I have a problem with is fining me a surcharge for not handing over my personal/private/confidential health info to ANY 3rd party. Whose business is it? I have a constitutional right to privacy. I… Read more »

BobbyG
Guest
BobbyG

So, all of your larger angry anti-Obama rant aside, you are saying the asserted facts of the CVS $50 / month charge are wrong?

And, how does the large amount of CVS floor space devoted to selling alcohol and junk food square with their purported concern for health?

Wolf
Guest
Wolf

I am CVS Caremark employee also. I would like to clear up a few things. First off the $180 incentive was not dependent on you getting a Health Screening last year. It was dependent on you completing one of the Wellness Programs offered by the Well Rewards program. There were a number of different programs you could have completed. I did one on stress relief and another on eating well. Some of the Programs would also give you a reward if you completed it during that quarter. It was $50 in which you could get an american express gift card… Read more »

John Auge
Guest
John Auge

This is what a true and compassionate employer can do…assist, nurture and motivate their employees. It’s often a directive of change. Doing more, doing better…and yes, their health and well being is part of that.
I think CVS can fly a banner of bold and constructive leadership.
They happen to be my choice of pharmacy/retailers.

Tim B
Guest

Compassionate? Constructive leadership? Thats being very extreme. CVS tells their employees not to smoke on their property because CVS is “compassionate” and cares about their health. So how come CVS sells those same cigarettes in their stores? Because when the price is right they will take the profit, but when the price is wrong for them they tell you not to do it. Its hypocritical at best. If they really cared they would not sell cigarettes at all. But like I said, they have no problem with the profits at the other end. Just as long as those sick smokers… Read more »

Mary C
Guest
Mary C

So all that happens is that some non-participants did not gain the incentive.

Mary C
Guest
Mary C

What also was projected inaccurately is that HIPAA does not “allow” penalties, only incentives What CVS would have done is have the base premium price for their healthcare benefits. Those that participated would then get a discount, and the ones that did not participate would pay the higher premiums (which were the base ones.) It is not correct to say that you get a penalty, as everyone has the same base premium cost.

Margalit Gur-Arie
Guest

Let’s make one thing very clear: employers are *not* paying for health insurance for their employees. Whatever they pay insurers on behalf of their employees is in lieu of wages. The money belongs to the employee, and the employer is just aggregating the purchase to obtain better terms. They are more than welcome to stop doing that. Sure, employers would love to cut health insurance costs without increasing wages, but the need for better margins does not give employers the right to invade employees privacy through some HIPAA circumventing shady “third party” deal. It’s good for you is not a… Read more »

BobbyG
Guest
BobbyG

Ah, somebody gets it.

Greg Juhn
Guest

Many employers are contributing significant amounts toward insurance, so whether it is in lieu of wages or not, they have a stake in the health of their workforce. I might have a different position if healthcare costs weren’t such a problem. Thanks for your comment and good points.

Margalit Gur-Arie
Guest

Thank you for the reply, Greg, and I do agree that employers have a stake in the health of their workforce (and/or equipment, real estate, etc.). However, we as a society decided that this stake does not give employers the right to discriminate based on health status, and I don’t see why now they are asserting the right to financially penalize based on the same. No, this unfortunately is not illegal, since HHS came out with specific guidelines on how employers should intrude into employee (and family) privacy. Where once, large group insurance could not rate and discriminate based on… Read more »

Tim B
Guest

Im not so sure about the claim of this “not being illegal”. Here is a direct quote from the Americans with Disabilities Act: “Under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), once employment begins, an employer may only make disability-related job inquiries and/or require medical examinations in the following circumstances: (1) if they are job-related and consistent with business necessity; (2) in order to follow up on a request for reasonable accommodation; or (3) as part of a voluntary wellness program. According to the EEOC, a wellness program is voluntary if an employee is neither required to participate… Read more »

Rina Tikia
Guest
Rina Tikia

” Takes team work to bend the cost curve on healthcare.” “Would that include banning super size soft drinks?”. You bring up an interesting point. CVS’ core business needs to thrive to cover payroll, taxes, expenses and overheads, including healthcare costs. Without this, there would be no CVS. And as I understand, CVS’ #1 expense according to SEC filings is their payroll. CVS#2 expense is health and welfare benefits for their employees. Do we want to put the cart before the horse or the other way around? CVS is simply positioning itself to engage patients and plan members in behaviors… Read more »

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

“CVS’ #1 expense according to SEC filings is their payroll. CVS#2 expense is health and welfare benefits for their employees.” Did you find their main profit drivers? “CVS is simply positioning itself to engage patients and plan members in behaviors that will improve health outcomes and lower health care costs.” Where does the “teamwork” start? Is society at large part of the team? CVS sells cigarettes and CVS sells junk food. Whose health are they interested in to deserve so many “kudos”? “engage patients and plan members in behaviors that will improve health outcomes and lower health care costs” How… Read more »

BobbyG
Guest
BobbyG
Peter1
Guest
Peter1

Great video Bobby! Best advice CVS can give its employees for better health – DON’T SHOP HERE!

Before they start trying to fix other peoples houses they should fix their own – if health care leadership is what their PR people are touting.

BobbyG
Guest
BobbyG

CVS Caremark CEO makes $15 million a year. Dude looks a bit jowly to me. But, I bet his doesn’t get any crap over HIS health care coverage.

I took footage of the large beer coolers too, but that clip got screwed up, so I went with what i had.