20 Pushups or $20? The Choice is Yours.

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How would you respond if your employer posed that question to you? Well, it may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. The Los Angeles Times reported today that, to curtail skyrocketing health insurance costs, some employers are implementing programs that penalize employees for being overweight, using tobacco/nicotine products or other unhealthy conditions and habits.

Starting in 2009, an Indiana-based hospital chain will begin charging employees $30 every two weeks, unless they meet weight, blood pressure and cholesterol guidelines established by the company. Other companies plan less extreme programs, such as providing financial incentives to healthy employees. One example is UnitedHealthcare, a nationwide insurance company. The company has already introduced a program that rewards healthy employees with lower deductibles on their health insurance benefits.

With the number of obese Americans now at roughly 1 in 3, employers are becoming creative, and some say desperate, to control the cost of health insurance. So, is this type of treatment fair, or even legal for that matter? The Department of Labor recently issued clarifications to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) that give employers the authority to use such incentives (or disincentives if you prefer). But many legal experts disagree and expect a battle in the nation’s courts if this becomes a trend.

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