Companies Can Fine You for High Cholesterol, Smoking

A federal court is allowing companies to charge you more for your healthcare if you can't pass or won't take a wellness screening. We've got all the details here.

By Chris Hoenig


Honeywell, the company that makes everything from home thermostats to astronaut life-support systems, can go forward with a program that penalizes employees who refuse wellness screenings, though the program itself may be on life support.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit looking to block Honeywell from instituting incentives and fines for its corporate wellness program. The EEOC argued that fines for non-participation violate the Americans With Disabilities Act, by forcing medical examinations that are not job-related, as well as a 2008 federal statute that prohibits discrimination based on genetic information.

Honeywell's program measures height, weight and waist size to determine an employee's Body Mass Index (BMI), and includes a blood-pressure reading and blood sample that is tested for cholesterol, blood sugar and nicotine levels.

If the nicotine tests show that an individual is a smoker, the employee has to pay a $1,000 surcharge on his or her healthcare coverage. Failure to submit to the test automatically triggers the surcharge, as Honeywell uses the refusal to conclude that the employee is a smoker. If a spouse is covered by the employee's insurance plan and does not submit a sample, an additional $1,000 surcharge is assessed.

In addition, any employees who refuse the biomedical screening are hit with a $500 surcharge on their 2015 insurance costs.

As further incentive, Honeywell offers contributions ranging from $250 to $1,500 to employee health-savings accounts to those who do undergo the screenings.

"Honeywell's medical examinations are unlawful," the EEOC said in its complaint, adding that the company "cannot do what the law says it cannot do—fine its employees who do not want to voluntarily submit to its medical testing."

In court, EEOC lawyers argued that the program is not the problem, but the penalties are.

"We are not seeking to stop testing and not seeking to stop the assessment of the smoking surcharge," EEOC attorney Laurie Vasicheck told the judge. "What they can't do is penalize employees who do not want to go through it."

Honeywell's attorneys said the program is in full federal compliance, and is authorized by multiple laws, including the Affordable Care Act.

"The incentives we provide are specifically sanctioned by two separate federal statutes," the company said. "We don't believe it's fair to the employees who do work to lead healthier lifestyles to subsidize the healthcare premiums for those who do not."

U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery, hearing the case at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis, said she will allow the program to continue while she considers the arguments.

"What is better public policy and who is likely to succeed are not measures this court is prepared to decide," Montgomery told the lawyers. "There are a number of fascinating issues for debate at a later time."

Montgomery told the lawyers that she believes Honeywell will have an easier time refunding penalties if she rules against them than trying to charge penalties if she sides with them.

Honeywell is a self-insurer, meaning it funds its own insurance plan instead of paying premiums to an insurance company. It's a common practice that covers about one-third of the 150 million Americans on private, employment-based healthcare plans across the country.

Company lawyers said 77 percent of employees took part in the screenings last year, when they were completely voluntary and no penalties were applied. So far this year, about 30,000 employees—about 55 percent of the company's workforce—have been screened.

The company also offers a program that provides a $500 health-savings-plan incentive for employees who receive extra advice and opinions about eight common, but expensive, health procedures, including lower-back surgery, heart-bypass surgery, hip and knee replacements, and hysterectomies and mastectomies. Honeywell says the incentive exists because there are usually alternatives to these procedures, but doctors rarely inform their patients about them, and the company just wants their employees to be fully informed.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 80 percent of American workers support wellness programs, but 62 percent object to penalties for not participating. Kaiser has also found that 51 percent of companies with 200-plus employees offer some form of health screening, but just 8 percent involve an incentive or penalty, which can create a gray area legally.

"The EEOC has never provided firm guidance on what 'voluntary' means," said John Barlament, an employee benefits lawyer with Quarles & Brady in Milwaukee. "They've never given us an exact dollar amount of cash compensation or anything else."

Abbott Introduces the Afinion™ 2 Analyzer Rapid Test System for Diabetes Management

State-of-the-art multi-assay test system helps people with diabetes get the HbA1c results they need within three minutes — allowing more time for consultation and care during a single healthcare visit.

Originally Published by Abbott.

Abbott announced the launch of its Afinion™ 2 analyzer in the U.S., the newest generation of the Afinion test system. The Afinion 2 builds on Abbott's heritage in diabetes care by empowering patients with information about their health that they can discuss with their providers during a single visit.

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White Officer Called Black Police Chief N-Word, Threatened to Beat Her to 'Death With a Banana'

Despite proof of a series of racist and threatening Facebook posts against Tiffany Tims, an Ohio officer hasn't been fired.

Screenshot from Facebook Messenger / WCMH NBC4

UPDATE May 30, 2018 at 10:38 p.m. ET:

On Wednesday night the Nelsonville City Council unanimously voted to fire police officer Joshua Braglin. The vote came during a city council meeting attended by numerous protesters.

ORIGINAL STORY

A white male police officer from Southeastern Ohio made racist and threatening Facebook posts against Hocking College Interim Police Chief Tiffany Tims, who is Black. Nelsonville Police Officer Joshua Braglin hasn't been fired. So, community organizers have scheduled a protest for Wednesday evening.

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People With Disabilities Forced to Live in Assisted Care Facilities

Some close to the issue are claiming this is a civil rights matter.

Minnesota has a civil rights issue. Thousands of people with disabilities who can't find quality home care are forced to resort to living with people three times their age. The state of Minnesota is paying for 1,500 people who are under the age of 65 to live in assisted living. This is the case with 25-year-old Korrie Johnson.

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Reason 1,000 Why Ben Carson Gets a Side Eye — HUD Is Being Sued by Civil Rights Groups

Carson is under fire for sidelining a housing regulation rule that discourages racial segregation.

President Donald Trump appointed Ben Carson secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) without any prior experience except that Carson "grew up in an inner city." Now Carson is leaving the door wide open for housing discrimination.

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Lynching Memorial and Museum Opening Highlights America's Racist Past, Parallels Today's Killings of African Americans

"We're dealing with police violence. We deal with these huge disparities in our criminal justice system. You know, if everything was wonderful you could ask the question, 'Why would you talk about the difficult past?' But everything is not wonderful."

@nullafacente_/INSTAGRAM

Hundreds of people lined up in the rain to experience a long overdue piece of American history and honor the lives lost to lynching at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery Alabama on Thursday.

The Equal Justice Initiative, sponsor of this project, has documented more than 4,000 "racial terror" lynchings in the United States between 1877 and 1950.

The first memorial honoring the victims includes sculptures and art depicting the terror Blacks faced; 800 six-foot steel, engraved monuments to symbolize the victims; writings and words of Toni Morrison and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and a final artwork by Hank Willis Thomas capturing the modern-day racial bias and violence embedded in the criminal justice system and law enforcement.

Among memorial visitors were civil right activist Rev. Jesse Jackson and film director Ava Duvernay. According to the Chicago Tribune, Jackson said it would help dispel the American silence on lynchings, highlighting that whites wouldn't talk about it because of shame and Blacks wouldn't talk about it because of fear. The "60 Minutes Overtime" on the memorial just three weeks earlier was reported by Oprah Winfrey, who stated during her viewing of the slavery sculpture, "This is searingly powerful." Duvernay, quoted by the Chicago Tribune, said: "This place has scratched a scab."

The Montgomery Downtown business association's President, Clay McInnis, who is white, offered his thoughts to NPR in reference to his own family connection to the history that included a grandfather who supported segregation and a friend who dismantled it. "How do you reconcile that on the third generation?" he asked. "You have conversations about it."

A place to start: The Montgomery Advertiser, the local newspaper, apologized for its racist history of coverage between the 1870s and 1950s by publishing the names of over 300 lynching victims on Thursday, the same day as the memorial opening. "Our Shame: the sins of our past laid bare for all to see. We were wrong," the paper wrote.

The innumerable killings of unarmed Black men and the robbing of Black families of fathers, mothers, and children today not only strongly resemble the history of lynchings, but also bring up the discomfort and visceral reactions that many have not reckoned with.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and the man who spearheaded this project, told NPR: "There's a lot of conflict. There's a lot of tension. We're dealing with police violence. We deal with these huge disparities in our criminal justice system. You know, if everything was wonderful you could ask the question, 'Why would you talk about the difficult past?' But everything is not wonderful."

WFSA, a local news station, interviewed a white man who had gone to see the Legacy Museum downtown, also part of the EJI project, located at the place of a former slave warehouse. He talked about how he was overwhelmed by the experience and that "Slavery is alive in a new way today."

Reactions on social media were reflective of the memorial's power and the work that is continuing toward progress.

During a launch event, the Peace and Justice Summit, Marian Wright Edelman, activist and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, urged the audience to continue their activism beyond the day's events on issues like ending child poverty and gun violence, according to the Chicago Tribune: "Don't come here and celebrate the museum ... when we're letting things happen on an even greater scale."

Perhaps the reason to honor and witness the horrific experiences of our ancestors is to seal in our minds the unacceptable killings of Blacks today, and the work we ALL have to do now to stop repeating the past.