Note to readers: before reading this post, you may want to read the post below which questions just how effective workplace wellness programs really are.
Often, Workplace Wellness Programs use financial carrots to reward employees who participate.. In some cases, workers will not have to contribute as much to their health care insurance premium if they “get with the program” and meet specific standards related to their health. Typically, these “outcome-based wellness programs” offer discounts to employees who quit smoking, or who meet specific metrics for blood pressure cholesterol or body-mass index.
Meanwhile some companies charge workers higher premiums if they continue to smoke, or do not participate in a wellness program.
Even if a company doesn’t use financial “sticks,” the carrots can mean that some employees contribute far less to the cost of their insurance.. The employer must make up the difference, and as a result, he is likely to make the “standard” employee contribution that much higher. Thus, employees who don’t receive the discount help subsidize the carrots for their co-workers.
Is This Fair?
Last week, the Obama administration issued new rules which say that under reform, wellness program rewards can equal 30 percent of the cost of coverage, defined as the total amount that employer and employee contribute to premiums (Under current law, discounts are limited to 20 percent.) The regulations also allows a reward of up to 50 percent for employees involved in programs designed to prevent or reduce smoking.
The new rules, issued by the Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services departments, gives this example of a permissible wellness program: “The annual premium for coverage in an employer’s group health plan is $6,000, of which the employer pays $4,500 and the employee $1,500. The employer offers a $600 discount to employees who participate in a wellness program focused on exercise, blood sugar, weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.
At the same time employers will be able to hike premiums for smokers by 50 percent .
Penalties Could Mean That Workers Will Be Forced to Opt Out of Insurance
“This could make insurance unaffordable for some workers, and keep the sickest workers from affording the care they need,” Alan Balch, vice president of the Preventive Health Partnership, an alliance of the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association, recently told Business Week. In that case “Wellness Program” penalties could undermine a major aim of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—ensuring that all Americans have access to insurance.