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CVS to staff: Disclose weight or pay $600

According to a news release from CVS on

According to a news release from CVS on its website, employees must complete a wellness review -- a health check including blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index to avoid a yearly surcharge on their insurance. Credit: AP

A CVS Caremark Corp. policy that its 200,000 employees must submit to a wellness exam by May 1 or face a $600 surcharge on their insurance payments has stirred a heated backlash online.

The debate over the new policy at CVS, a Woonsocket, R.I.-based pharmacy operator, combines concerns about rising health care costs, patient privacy rights and anger at what some commentators are calling coercion of employees.

The CVS policy asks employees to submit the results of a health exam -- including body mass index, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol -- to online health website WebMD to be evaluated against targeted healthy standards. The company pays for the costs associated with the exam.

If the employees do not take the exam, they will pay an additional $50 on their monthly health insurance -- amounting to $600 extra per year.

The WebMD evaluation is designed to help employees make healthier decisions, and the personal information is not shared with CVS, company spokesman Michael DeAngelis said.

"We . . . determined that an additional cost for those who do not complete the review was the most effective way to incent our colleagues to improve their health care and manage health costs," he said.

Although growing numbers of companies have asked employees to undergo health assessments in recent years, they typically offer financial incentives rather than penalties.

A 2012 survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust found that 38 percent of large employers asked their employees to go through a health exam.

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Sixty-three percent of those companies offered a financial incentive to employees to complete the assessment.

Labor lawyers say they see no legal issues with the CVS plan as long as employees' health information is not disclosed to the employer, which CVS has said will not happen.

Richard Kass, a Manhattan-based labor attorney, said that whether a company charges those who don't comply or rewards those who do is "a matter of semantics."

Still, the plan has drawn intense opposition online. Stories about the CVS policy have been posted on various blogs and news websites in recent days, many drawing hundreds of comments from readers.

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