Bioethics Blogs

Workplace Wellness Programs: Continuing The Discussion With Dinardo, Horwitz, And Kelly

This is a response to the DiNardo, Horwitz, and Kelly Health Affairs Blog post in which the authors replied to my previous commentary, “Structuring Legal, Ethical, and Practical Workplace Health Incentives: A Reply to Horwitz, Kelly, And DiNardo.”  In my prior post, I highlighted my disagreements with many of the points made by Horwitz et al. in their Health Affairs article entitled “Wellness Incentives in the Workplace:  Cost Savings through Cost Shifting to Unhealthy Workers.”  This post continues that dialogue.

I begin this commentary with some hesitation.  I want to be clear that my intent in posting these blogs is not to “dig in my heels.”  In fact, I fully understand, appreciate, and empathize with DiNardo et al.’s positions.  They are rightfully concerned about protecting poor, minority, and disenfranchised workers whose rights may be threatened by unscrupulous employers who wish to place the onus on employees to “become healthy” or “else” — the “else” meaning paying a higher health insurance premium than their “healthy” counterparts.  I appreciate that DiNardo et al. are protecting the interests of workers who, through no fault of their own, have become ill and are now faced with the prospect of paying more for health care coverage because of their illness.

Let me unequivocally state that paying more for health insurance because you are ill or have certain health risk factors is not the goal of workplace health promotion (wellness) advocates.  Quite the opposite is true.  Our intent is to keep workers healthy for as long as possible so that they can be spared the human and financial burden of paying for health care services that might otherwise have been avoided.  The point of workplace wellness programs is to inspire people to improve their health behaviors and biometric measures so that they do not suffer from illnesses that are to a large degree attributable to lifestyle practices — e.g., lung cancer, type-2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and coronary heart disease (CHD).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.