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More American Companies Offering Incentives for Staying Healthy

Some employers in the United States are offering their workers financial incentives to get healthy .. in an effort to reduce health care costs and improve employee productivity. Last year, heath care costs in the U.S. rose at twice the rate of inflation in 2008. As VOA reports from Orlando, Florida, the financial incentives can be an important factor motivating Americans to improve their health.

Getting exercise is an important part of Dave Hawley's routine.

Hawley has diabetes. He has enrolled in a one year program where he gets financial incentives from his employer to manage the disease. "I have days where I know that the diabetes is causing a lack of productivity within the workplace," he said.

That is one of the reasons Hawley's employer, the Orange County government in central Florida, decided to offer its workers incentives to tackle their diabetes.

To qualify, Hawley must measure his blood sugar regularly, send the results to a doctor, and attend meetings to learn about the disease and discuss his goals.

Erlene Cavaliere oversees the program. "Each month," Cavaliere assert, "They could potentially be removed from the program if they're not meeting specific goals."

According to a recent study, nearly 60 percent of large U.S. organizations offer lifestyle improvement programs to their employees. And, despite the economic recession, companies continue to add wellness and health management programs.

Reduced costs for drugs and doctors' visits, plus several one time payments are the rewards for participating in such programs.

A study by Hawley's employer found about 40 percent of its workers have diabetes or are at risk of developing it. And 80 percent are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for a range of illnesses including diabetes and heart disease.

One study estimates poor employee health costs American companies more than $220 billion a year.

The Florida Health Care Coalition's Becky Cherney says employers are using a variety of incentives to tackle the problem. "The jury's still out on whether it should be carrots, where you actually do cash," she said. "Or a stick where you say 'if you don't do the right things, maybe you're going to have to pay more'.

Ninety percent of Orange County's employees participate in its wellness program.

Dave Hawley says the incentives are helping him to deal with his diabetes. He says he hopes to be rid of the disease by the time the program concludes next year.