Health Care – Wellness Programs

Lawmakers Introduce Proposal to Protect Employer-Provided Wellness Programs

March 31, 2015

On March 3, lawmakers introduced the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (H.R. 1189 and S.620), to provide certainty to employers offering innovative employee wellness programs.

Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) introduced the House bill, H.R. 1189, and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced the companion bill, S. 620. Specifically, H.R.1189 and S.620 would provide legal certainty and eliminate confusion caused by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for employers offering employee wellness programs that lower health insurance premiums to reward healthy lifestyle choices.

A bipartisan provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows employers to discount health insurance premiums by up to 30 percent—or 50 percent if approved by the departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services—for healthy lifestyle choices like quitting smoking or maintaining a healthy cholesterol level. However, recent litigation pursued by the EEOC, citing that medical screenings to participate in wellness programs are not voluntary and therefore are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, has threatened the certainty of the law for employers who offer these programs.

The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act proposes to reaffirm existing law, which allows for employee wellness programs tied to a financial reward. H.R. 1189 and S.620 clarify that an employee’s spouse may participate in the program as well. They also provide employees up to 180 days to request and complete an alternative wellness program if it is medically inadvisable or unreasonably difficult for an employee to participate in the original wellness program. In addition, the proposal does not limit the EEOC’s authority to investigate and litigate complaints of employment discrimination.

A recent SHRM survey found that 76% of HR professionals indicated their organization offered some type of wellness program, resource or service to employees. Among these respondents, about one-half reported that employee participation increased in 2014, as well as in 2012 and 2013, indicating a pattern of increased use of wellness initiatives over time. In addition, more than two-thirds of respondents from organizations that offered wellness initiatives indicated that these programs were effective in reducing the cost of health care.

As SHRM’s survey results illustrate, incentive-based wellness programs will continue to be an important part of many organizations’ health care cost-containment strategies. SHRM supports H.R. 1189 and S. 620 and encourages members to visit its Policy Action Center to write to their lawmakers, asking that they co-sponsor the proposals. SHRM submitted a statement for the record on January 28 to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in support of employer- provided wellness programs.



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