Health Care Reform Will Lead to Stricter Workplace Wellness Programs and Harsher Penalties

The Obama administration recently announced the final rules on employee wellness programs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the regulations, which were enacted under the ACA on May 29. The program allows employers to increase the incentives they give workers to get them into a wellness program or other means of promoting healthier choices and behavior. It supports workplace health encouragement and deterrence as a way to decrease chronic sickness, better health, and regulate growth of health care costs while making sure workers are safe from unfair underwriting methods that could lessen benefits based on health status.

Employers also get clarity on applying penalties for unhealthy employees. Under the new regulations, employers have greater flexibility to charge higher premiums to workers who do not meet certain health goals.

According to a recent survey by the Midwest Business Group on Health, more than 80% of the country’s biggest employers are looking to implement a penalty and reward system to encourage their workers to get healthy.

The rules support “participatory wellness programs,” which are typically accessible no matter the individual’s health status. Included are programs that compensate employees for the cost of membership to a gym or fitness center, rewards for those who attend a free monthly health education meeting or who undergo a health risk assessment.

The final rules protect users by demanding that health-contingent wellness programs be logically planned, equally available to all similarly situated people, and that they accommodate suggestions made at any time by an individual’s doctor founded on medical appropriateness.

Due partially to the ACA, 82% of almost 100 global and national businesses are lowering premiums and offering gift cards for healthy living or charging higher co-payments and fees for poor health choices like smoking. The final rules will go into effect starting on or after Jan. 1, 2014

Read the official news release from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services here: