Today’s Wall Street Journal reports on the efforts of AmeriGas Propane to control its health costs and improve the health status of its employees. (WSJ article) After trying several more voluntary methods to encourage its workers to pay attention to their health, and seeing no significant results, the company decided to require that staff get physicals and certain diagnostic tests to retain their insurance coverage. The program has probably raised costs for this year above what they otherwise would have been, due to the increased physician visits and tests, but the firm obviously believes it will save down the road if employees’ health issues are identified and addressed early on. The company does not force workers to take any particular action based on the exams and tests, but anecdotally several made major changes to diet and exercise patterns and some learned of diseases, such as breast cancer, earlier than they otherwise might have.
There were of course objectors, some because of potential discrimination issues, some because of privacy and free choice issues. A union was not very supportive, which is not surprising, but is given that unions should want their members to be in good health and to have lower health costs. Government barriers to these efforts also exist in the form of EEOC rulings and some state insurance requirements. That is unfortunate because this requirement certainly improves health and probably lowers cost for everyone. The program’s results suggest that a lot of people fail to get even basic medical exams and tests, probably because they would just as soon not know any bad news. Another potential lesson for health reformers is that it may pay to require that people take some basic responsibility for ascertaining their health status.