Would you auction off your bad habits?

John Taylor: March 26, 20070 Comments

The Census Bureau says a computer glitch inflated the total number of uninsured Americans -- 44.8 million people, or 15.3% of the population had no health coverage in 2005, not the 46.6 million, or 15.9% as reported.  And the bureau will be going back to clean up mistaken figures from past years.

If you're uninsured, chances are you couldn't care less about a recent Los Angeles Times story reporting that firms around the country are offering Xboxes, flat-screen TVs, digital cameras and all kinds of geegaws to employees who lose weight, quit smoking or lower their cholesterol.

That's the good-cop approach to the bad-cop tactic of other companies that fire employees who fail nicotine tests or that add insurance surcharges to those addicted to fried pork rinds and pickled pigs feet.

Experts say it's uncertain whether a rewards-driven health policy will pay dividends, although one company reported its workers filled fewer prescriptions after the wellness program took hold.

Creating a corporate culture of wellness certainly makes sense to Community Medical Centers, the region's largest health care provider, says Jack Lazzarini, director of Community's employee wellness program.

Community already rewards staff with gift cards and bonuses when they provide referrals for hard-to-fill positions. And health motivators are in the works in the coming months.

The IPods and other perks used elsewhere sound good, but it's the sustaining of culture that really resonates with me.  Many health problems develop over 20 years of bad habits -- "creeping neglect," you might call it. And it takes long-term, not just fancy-of-the-moment commitment to turn the tide.

Maybe we should slogan it up a bit, and view a longer, healthier life as "time added for good behavior."