April 25, 2013e
Recently, the CVS Caremark Corporation began requiring employees to disclose personal health information (including weight, blood pressure, and body fat levels) or else pay an annual $600 fine. Workers must make this information available to the company’s employee “Wellness Program” and sign a form stating that they’re doing so voluntarily.
CVS argues this will help workers “take more responsibility for improving their health.” At one level, this makes a certain sense. Because the company is paying for their employees’ health insurance, they naturally prefer healthier workers. But at a deeper level, CVS’ action demonstrates a growing problem with our current system of employer-provided health insurance. If our bosses must pay for our health care, they will inevitably seek greater control over our lifestyles.
Although most Americans take it for granted that they receive health insurance through the workplace, this is an artifact of federal tax rules from World War II. When the U.S. government imposed wartime wage controls, employers could no longer compete for workers by offering higher salaries. Instead, they competed by offering more generous fringe benefits such as health insurance. In 1943, the IRS ruled that employees did not have to pay tax on health benefits provided by employers; in 1954, the IRS made this permanent.