Last month CVS found itself embroiled in controversy after details of an employee health plan were leaked. CVS employees who did not participate in a special wellness screening, which includes measuring an employee’s weight, blood pressure and blood glucose levels, would face a $50 per month penalty. CVS management should take a close look at the results of a new study released by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System, which reveals group-based cash incentives promote healthy habits.  

I’m not a researcher, but in my criticism of CVS’ plan, I suggested that an incentive-based approach would likely be better received, and it turns out that I was on to something.  

“The study examined two types of incentive strategies among employees who were obese at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. In the first group, individuals were offered $100 each month they met or exceeded weight loss goals. In the second group, individuals were placed into groups of five people in which $500 was split among the participants who met or exceeded monthly weight loss goals – upping competition by allowing some to earn more than $100 if other members didn't meet goals.”

After six months, the participants who were placed in small groups fared better than those who were working on their weight loss goals individually. Basically, money plus peer pressure equals weight loss success.  

Two years ago, a local school district launched an incentive-based group weight loss program called Kyrene Win on Wellness Biggest Loser Competition. Over a two month-period, more than 650 participants lost 5,888 pounds. This weight loss challenge not only positively impacted the health of the participants, it also helped the district from a financial perspective.  

According to Deb Spurgin, the employee benefits assistant director at the Kyrene School District, “For the first time in many years, we had a less-than double digit increase in health insurance premiums (9 percent) for our self-funded medical plans, and our medical claims expenses are currently trending at levels we paid in 2007-2008. The wellness programs are truly a win-win for Kyrene and our employees.”  Source:

Although only a few employees received an award for their weight loss, the competitive and group nature of the challenge spurned participation. Perhaps CVS management will see this study and change its approach to workplace wellness and managing healthcare costs come 2014.

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