Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wal-Mart Seeks "Healthy" Employees

A memorandum to the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has provoked quite a bit of reaction. It also could have implications for patient and employee privacy. The memo suggests that Wal-Mart take steps to hire healthy employees, get their employees healthier, and even discourage non-healthy employees from ever getting a job at Wal-Mart.

Not because you need to be healthy to work at Wal-Mart -- but to cut down on Wal-Mart's insurance costs.

But this is what anti-discrimination and privacy laws were designed to prevent.

We often hear that even small employers with group health plans will be unaffected by one sick employee. And that should be true for a large one, too. But what if an employer is so large that they can see extensive savings by implementing a corporate-wide, generalized effort to weed out employees who might cause their insurance rates to rise? Given the role that employers have in paying for health insurance and health care, not to mention other costs to employers from sick employees (lost time, lost productivity) this is a trend that we will see again.

Key Quotes from the Memo:

“Given the significant savings from even a small improvement in the health of our Associate base, Wal-Mart should seek to attract a healthier workforce.”

Some of the memo's recommendations:

• Design all jobs to include some physical activity (e.g. all cashiers do some cart gathering);

• Offer savings via the Discount Card on health foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables);

• Offer benefits that appeal to healthy Associates (e.g., an education offering targeted at students)

Other key quotes:

“A healthier workforce will lead to lower insurance costs, lower absenteeism through fewer sick days, and higher productivity.”

“It will be far easier to attract and retain a healthier workforce than to change behavior in an existing one.”

“These moves would also dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart.”


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