Early Briefing: Get A Physical, Get $75

Debbie and Larry Ward of Jefferson, Md., each get $75 from Debbie's company when they go for their annual physicals. Arlington County police officer Darrin Cassedy received a two-night hotel stay in Florida and an MP3 player from his employer for losing weight and exercising. Sandy Colaccino of Silver Spring has access to free primary and urgent care at her job, a resource that she believes saved her from serious illness.

"A lot of people are shocked," says Debbie Ward, 51, that her employer, Herndon-based construction materials company Lafarge North America, hands out gift cards when employees or family members get physicals and cancer screenings or fill in detailed questionnaires about their health. The Wards have earned more than $400 in health-related rewards and will receive enough financial incentives in the coming year to make up for the $14-a-month premium hike they'll face from their Aetna PPO. "I'm very happy with my benefits," Ward says.

It's not only the employees who are happy. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that nearly 80 percent of large firms offering wellness programs believe they improve health, and 68 percent say they reduce costs.

Even though some experts contend these estimates are overly upbeat, many large companies -- including several local employers -- are adding financial incentives to their wellness and disease management efforts. While the Kaiser survey showed only a handful of employers currently pay people to take part in their programs, "in 2009, somewhere around 35 percent of [large] employers will offer such incentives," says Tracy Watts, a principal with the benefits consulting firm Mercer.

The Health section writes about those programs here.

In other news:

*Staffing shortages at the State Department are so bad the agency needs to increase its hiring by 46 percent -- adding more than 4,700 jobs -- between 2010 and 2014.

That's the conclusion of retired ambassadors and other foreign policy experts, who produced a report on the shortfall for the American Academy of Diplomacy.

Federal Diary columnist Joe Davidson said the study, "A Foreign Affairs Budget for the Future," which the academy will release Thursday, is blunt:

"Our foreign affairs capacity is hobbled . . . "

"Significant portions of the nation's foreign affairs business simply are not accomplished."

The Academy's report can be found here.

*Dr. William R. Brody will lead the Salk Institute for Biological Studies after he steps down from the presidency of Johns Hopkins University, the institute announced Monday.

Brody had previously announced that he would leave Hopkins, where he has been president for 12 years, at the end of this year. He will join the Salk Institute, an independent nonprofit research center in La Jolla, Calif., in March.

Brody, a biomedical researcher and former chief radiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, holds two patents in medical imaging and co-founded three medical device companies. He studied electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earned his doctorate in electrical engineering and his medical degree from Stanford University and did postgraduate training in cardiovascular surgery and radiology.

*Discovery Communications plans to sell more content to broadcasters, chief executive David Zaslav said.

Discovery, of Silver Spring, is moving away from a strategy to keep shows exclusively for its channels, Zaslav said at an industry meeting in France, where it is trying to sell programming from channels including Planet Green and Animal Planet.

By Dan Beyers  |  October 14, 2008; 7:35 AM ET
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