Get Paid to Stay Healthy

Many companies offer wellness programs that reward employees for good health habits.

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More employers are paying workers to take a physical, get cancer screenings, eat well, exercise, and take better care of themselves. Irene Gernon of Harrison, N.Y., pocketed $200 from her employer, PepsiCo, in 2008 by completing a personal health assessment and entering a smoking cessation program. She also avoided a $600 surcharge on her health insurance by completing the antismoking program. Gernon figures PepsiCo has paid her $500 in recent years to eat healthfully and adopt other good habits.

"I've saved a lot of money. I think it's great," says Gernon, a PepsiCo executive assistant. Gernon, a 30-year, three-pack-a-day smoker, has been smoke free for nearly a year. "I've never felt better," she says.

Paying workers to adopt more healthful lifestyles helps the company bottom line and workers' pocketbooks, according to PepsiCo, which also pays employee spouses up to $400 per family per year for participating in a variety of wellness programs. "Good health is its own reward, but incentives help," says Greg Heaslip, PepsiCo's benefits vice president.

Even in the recession, employers say offering financial incentives makes sense: It can lower the rate of health insurance premium hikes. While most large employers saw premiums rise 6 percent or more in 2008, premiums at PepsiCo remained flat.

Benefits consultant Mercer reports that more than one third of large employers are planning to offer such financial perks in 2009. The National Business Group on Health says half of its members, some of the nation's largest companies, will offer payment for healthful behaviors. The rewards come by way of cash, gift cards, lower health insurance premiums or copays, or prefunding of health accounts workers can use to pay deductibles and other health costs, which is how PepsiCo structures its rewards. Which behavior gets rewarded varies by firm, so check with yours, but options can include annual checkups, filling out health questionnaires, joining wellness or disease management programs, or even participating in team-based health competitions.