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Form Letter —

March 22, 2013

Armchair Activistm


This afternoon I got the following email from CVS:

Dear Shannon Russell,

Thank you very much for joining in this important conversation. We appreciate the opportunity to share our point of view with you.

As a pharmacy innovation company, we are relentlessly committed to helping people on their path to better health. For us, that commitment starts with our own employees. That is why, three years ago, we started giving CVS employees incentives to improve their health?a program that many companies around the country have used for over 10 years.

So this year, we made our incentive clearer, by letting employees know how much their premiums would go up if they did not get screened. Studies have shown, unequivocally, that this approach has a significantly greater impact on peoples positive health outcomes?and helps keep their premiums down.

It is important to know that the healthcare program is a voluntarily service that we offer our employees. It is also very important to understand that CVS will not see the results of these private screenings, and that they are in full compliance with health care laws, including HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). The screenings will simply help employees know their numbers?and, by extension, the steps they can take toward better health.

We are confident that, over time, our combined efforts will benefit our colleagues and their families?and, ultimately, help build healthier communities.


CVS Customer Relations

Unsatisfied with their answer, this is my response. Check out this post to find the contact information for CVS big wigs so you can send your own response. I’ll let y’all know if I hear back from anyone at CVS:

Hi Janet,
Thank you for contacting me. I have quite a few questions and I hope that you can answer them, or direct me to someone who can, so that I can pass this information along to our readers.

First of all, one of my biggest concerns is that the policy states, “Going forward, you’ll be expected not just to know your numbers – but also to take action to manage them.” Under what circumstances will action be “expected” and what is the action that employees will be expected to take? Given the information you requested, how will participation in the wellness program be determined? By BMI? Body fat? BP? Will obese employees be expected to lose weight? If so, what programs will you be subsidizing to encourage that?

Second, according to Glass Door, CVS pays it’s cashiers $8.38/hour. For a full time employee, that’s $17,430 per year, or 150% of the federal poverty line for a single person. Studies have shown, unequivocally, that the working poor have higher rates of obesity and that they face far greater obstacles to health than those who make a living wage (PDF). How do you intend to address the socio-economic issues that affect your employees’ health due to your wage policies?

Third, along those same lines, it’s well known (and thoroughly outlined in this recent Time article) that the true cost drivers of healthcare come from the providers of services and equipment, and not as much from disease treatment. If healthcare costs are forcing you to raise prices on your employees, then why not address these supplier issues first? As the largest pharmaceutical chain in the United States, surely you have leverage to negotiate prices on pharmaceutical drugs and equipment and can use that power to influence the gouging of American healthcare plans.

Fourth, will you be screening for any other health concerns besides the metabolic issues and smoking? What about the consumption of alcohol or drugs (illicit or otherwise)? Will you be helping your employees make better choices regarding their sexual health? I noticed that you are penalizing smokers if they don’t quit or join a smoking cessation program, but do not identify the financial penalty as you have for the metabolic issues. Can you tell us what the annual financial penalty would be for resistant smokers?

Finally, you say this program is voluntary, but you threaten to raise the cost of those who don’t participate in the screenings. You do not offer the option of participating in the wellness programs without the screening. There is no alternative to the disclosure of personal medical records to a third party. How can you call this “voluntary” when you are demanding personal information under threat of financial penalty? This is the first incentive program I have read about that threatens a financial penalty for non-participation, rather than a discount for participation, something which the working poor in your employ surely cannot afford. Is this your definition of “voluntary”?

There are ways to encourage health among your employees, but making CVS the Big Brother of employee health is not the way to do it. Health is a personal choice and health records are private, and should not be coerced out of your employees by any means. I hope you will clarify your program and answer the questions I have presented above. But if you continue down this path, I will continue to urge people to boycott CVS and speak out against this clear overreach of corporate authority.

Thank you for your time.

Shannon Russell

15 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2013 4:34 pm

    I like your response. Your arguments will give CVS many headaches. I wonder if they will respond because they have already been defeated. It seems that all aspects of American medicine become more coercive every year. I recently had to walk out on a physician who decided to treat me for something different than I made the appointment for. As you might guess it was a metabolic risk factor, not a real disease. He hated that I stood up to his bull. Its all about the corporate medicine business model and they are becoming very aggressive about taking our money without providing anything useful in return.

  2. Theresa permalink
    March 22, 2013 4:39 pm

    You rock, Shannon. Hold their feet to the fire.

  3. LittleBigGirl permalink
    March 22, 2013 4:55 pm

    AWESOME LETTER Shannon! I won’t hold my breath for an intelligent answer, but you were so good – clear, succinct, great source citation…no swearing lol.
    I love how stupid this makes CVS policy look, without being insulting because it’s just the truth that hurts.

    We get brushed off as angry bitter fatties but the points you raised are legitimate concerns about business policy, healthcare, privacy rights, etc. Fat people have good reason to be angry about this, but everyone should be concerned about what this kind of policy can foreshadow if gone unchallenged.

    • March 22, 2013 5:24 pm

      Thanks. I got another response from the CVS rep who said she was passing it on for someone else to respond. I’m not holding my breath either, but we shall see.


  4. The Real Cie permalink
    March 23, 2013 12:38 am

    Shannon, your well-written response blows their bullshit form letter out of the water. How dare you try to make them think! 😉

  5. Kim permalink
    March 23, 2013 9:27 pm

    Even if this complies with HIPAA I can’t see this policy being legal. In 2008 GINA (the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) was passed to prevent such egregious targeting by health insurance companies. For those not familiar it was particularly passed to ease concern about insurance companies getting ahold of personal genetic information from medical testing and using it to charge you more for insurance or to deny you benefits. Considering most metabolic conditions are usually indeed genetic how can then monetarily penalizing someone be legal? Especially when they are targeting genetic DISEASES like blood pressure for monetary penalties but not risky BEHAVIORS such as smoking. I think if it actually makes it to court it will be struck down (but who knows in today’s nanny society). Regardless, it is disgusting that the world is full of such people that we need to make laws preventing them from shoving peoples faces in the crap that life already bestows upon them.

    • rocky123 permalink
      March 24, 2013 6:12 pm

      Media has done a great job on smoking & 2nd hand smoke. If you would do your own research you will see 2nd hand smoke is a joke. Im not fat but I smoke, but it’s the same issues. Freedom, big pharma pusing their meds and taxes. Smokers pay billions a year in taxes and now they want to tax suger, soda & salt for the same reasons, money, money, money. Japan has the highest rate of smokers yet the highest lifespan, women & men. It’s not smokers or obese at all for high health costs but new technology. As for risky behaviours, skiing, skating, sky diving, bike racing, etc. who decides?

      • Mulberry permalink
        March 24, 2013 9:43 pm

        It’s not quite comparable, since smoking, etc., are habits and obesity is a phenotype. It’s not difficult to be quite fat and lead a healthy lifestyle.

        • Fab@54 permalink
          March 25, 2013 7:39 am

          I think the overwhelming media saturation factor IS very much comparable. Rocky is right; according to MANY studies, the ‘dangers’ of 2nd hand smoke is highly exaggerated at best, and downright BS at worst.

          The studies that prove this go virtually ignored, while the biased studies that further advance anti-smoking issues and demonize smokers for profit on (health) insurance get top billing and continual funding.

          It is the same media saturation that has lead to the myths and misinformation regarding obesity and all it’s insidious “dangers & diseases”.

          Who controls the media; the funding for ‘studies’; the advertizing of results and all the products and profits pertaining to anti-smoking? The Anti-smoking campaign organization (worth BILLIONS per year) and their lobbyists who work over Washington DC and politicians like a professional prize fighter works over an 8 yr old schoolyard bully.

          There is a huge comparison here. Obesity IS the new anti-smoking hysteria.

        • Elizabeth permalink
          March 25, 2013 8:38 am

          Let me say that I am not pro-smoking. That said, smoking is a self-soothing behavior that helps many people cope. My feeling is that so-called health professionals should always be helping people to maximize their health, no matter their genetics or their habits. When smokers were studied to find the difference between those who got lung cancer and those who didn’t, it was determined that the level of nitrosamines (carcinogens) in the urine was very relevant. Taking Vitamin C in optidoses (bowel tolerance) will rid the body of nitrosamines and help smokers maximize their health. But no “health professional” will tell their patients this because they don’t even know it. Just like they don’t tell their patients to be sure to have some protein with any carbohydrates they eat, in order to lower the insulin response.

  6. Ira Ellis permalink
    March 24, 2013 2:33 pm

    If CVS hires a fat person, how can they penalize the employee?

    • Fab@54 permalink
      March 25, 2013 12:11 pm

      I have a feeling this might just be another ‘convenient’ excuse to get rid of older, higher paid, long time employees…. Can’t fire you because you’re too old n wrinkled, and they want fresh young faces behind the counter, right? Age discrimination!

      But if you get fat…well, that’s a different story? Sure, they just want thin, attractive people behind the counter, I guess. Like I said; convenient.

  7. Dizzyd permalink
    April 20, 2013 11:38 am

    As long as fat people are seen as the undesirable ‘others’ and ppl think ‘not my problem’, it will be an uphill battle. But if ppl affected by this continue to fight, progress will be made. Btw, what was that about exaggerations re: 2nd-hand smoke? I’d like to know more.

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