Under ObamaCare, smoking, obesity and other health conditions sometimes penalized by wellness programs can force even those with employer-provided insurance to pay more, an officer of the National Union of Healthcare Workers said Tuesday.
"I run five miles a day, I don't drink, I don't smoke. And by the Kaiser wellness program that a number of employees we represent are covered by, I'm two pounds from being overweight," said John Borsos.
Kaiser said in a statement late Tuesday that its program is voluntary and does not penalize those who don't meet the program's goals, although that is not true for other programs.
Borsos says even the extremely fit, such as Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, would be considered overweight by wellness programs.
The rules for such a program, put out in May as a regulation, say, "The program must be reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease."
Borsos criticizes what he calls "a lack of precision in what's going on out there. It’s kind of troubling," he says, "that this was so heavily incorporated into the Affordable Care Act in the way that it was.”
"Wellness is very, very popular in the corporate world," says John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas. "Companies are just beginning to impose pretty severe penalties."
If workers do not participate, for instance, they can be charged up to 20 percent of their health insurance premium, and that is going up to 30 percent in January.
Employers like wellness programs because they think they help create a healthier workforce.
For instance, CVS drug stores imposed a $50 fine per month -- $600 a year-- on those who refuse to disclose their weight, body fat, and other health measures.
Walmart penalizes smokers by as much as $2300 a year if they want coverage.
Goodman notes that the 50 percent penalty for smoking permitted by ObamaCare is assessed against the entire cost of the plan.
"It's 50 percent more of the total cost of the insurance," he explains. "So if you have a plan that costs $6,000, a typical employee would pay $1500."
But Goodman says the "50 percent penalty is for the full $6,000. That would be a $3,000 premium increase. His premium out of his pocket will triple if he's a smoker."
Union leader Borsos also argues wellness plans can be very intrusive, asking a series of very personal questions.
He pointed to one, for instance, that asks such questions as "Have you ever had a total hysterectomy? How much do you weigh?... In the last month, have you ever felt nervous or stressed? In the last month, how often have you been angered because of things beyond your control? "
And finally, "During the past week, I have felt lonely-- yes or no? During the past week, I have felt sad, yes or no?"