Healthy Employees Receive Wellness Program Incentives
Employers who provide incentives for workers who quit smoking cigarettes or lose weight are now offering rewards to workers who already might lead a healthy lifestyle in response to recently approved federal regulations intended to "ensure that all workers are treated fairly in so-called wellness programs," the Wall Street Journal reports.
U.S. companies increasingly are establishing wellness programs amid growing evidence that the programs can help lower overall health care costs. In addition to encouraging healthy lifestyles, the programs often monitor employees for chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, and recommend treatment.
In December 2006, HHS and the Department of Labor issued final rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to help ensure wellness programs treated all workers equally.
According to the rules, which are effective July 1, an employer or insurer can provide no more than a 20% discount on an employee's health insurance premium as an incentive for healthy lifestyle changes.
The rules also will require employers to provide "reasonable alternatives" for workers with physical or medical conditions. For example, because nicotine addiction is considered a medical condition, employers typically must "make allowances" in health plans and wellness programs for those who cannot quit, and "[s]imilar principles" are being applied to obesity programs, the Journal reports.
As a result of the rules, many workers are receiving extra money or discounts on insurance premiums "just for participating in wellness programs regardless of whether they manage to change their habits," according to the Journal (McQueen, Wall Street Journal, 3/28).