Critics say Cleveland Clinic a 'big brother' to employee fitness

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Controversial as it is, Cleveland Clinic is telling its employees to stay fit or pay up. The 29,000 employees in the Clinic's health plan must maintain health goals through its wellness program or else see up to a 21 percent increase in their insurance premiums.

The Clinic already has 16,000 employees signed up for the health system's program called "Healthy Choice," while the organization hopes to motivate the other 13,000.

"We want people to embrace health, not be punished," Paul Terpeluk, medical director of the Clinic's Employee Health Services, told The Plain Dealer. "This isn't a stick, it's a carrot."

However, critics argue the workplace program is tantamount to employer mandates and removes personal choice from its employees.

Terpeluk continued, "We are not forcing people to do anything, but as a health care institution, we do feel this is the right thing to do."

Employees in the Healthy Choice program agree to see a physician who determines and helps them set health goals if the employees have a chronic condition such as asthma, diabetes or high blood pressure and if they are a smoker. If they don't participate in the program, they pay a 21 percent increase. If they do participate but haven't fulfilled their goals, they face a 9 percent increase.

On the flip side, if they do meet their health goals, they see the lowest premiums at a 4 percent decrease than the previous year. If employees don't fall into any of the chronic condition categories, they can still avoid the 21 percent increase by joining the gym.

This isn't the first controversial move from Cleveland Clinic regarding its employee health policies, particularly under the leadership of CEO Toby Cosgrove. Cleveland Clinic stopped hiring smokers five years ago, as well as launched a healthy food campaign on campuses that eliminated sugary drinks. The health system also offers free Weight Watchers meetings, free gym membership (for those who work out 10 times a month) and yoga classes.

Skeptics of the big-brother approach might be swayed by the numbers. Cleveland Clinic reports that while participation rates for chronic disease management averages at 12 to 15 percent for the nation, the Clinic's participation level is at 40 percent, according to Terpeluk.

For more information:
- read the Plain Dealer article
- read the Columbus Business First article
- read the MedCity News article

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