It’s All in the Details: Employer Wellness Programs Can Help or Harm

by | Mar 22, 2013 | ACA

As health care purchasers, consumers, and decision makers for ourselves and our families, women are keenly interested in wellness and preventing illness. So the new wellness programs some employers are offering have some appeal.

These programs are intended to provide a convenient way for employees to improve and maintain their health. And there are some benefits. If designed and implemented properly, wellness programs can offer flex-time for walking or other physical activity, provide education about healthy lifestyles and other valuable health-related workplace initiatives. The programs can also help workers achieve their wellness goals by providing activities at a time and location that fits the time constraints associated with responsibilities at home and in the workplace.

But done badly, employer wellness programs can become a back door way of discriminating by circumventing the market reforms and protections put in place by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The National Partnership for Women & Families is working to ensure that wellness programs are not used to undo the progress made by the ACA. – In a recent letter to the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Partnership outlined some of the specific steps that need to be taken to ensure that employer wellness programs help — not hurt — women. – These steps include:

  • Preventing employers from using workplace wellness programs to tie health insurance premium costs to conditions like weight, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. Programs that do this could be used by employers to avoid the ACA’s prohibition on medical underwriting.
  • Ensuring that employers cannot dramatically vary employee premiums so that employees who are unable to satisfy their workplace’s wellness targets face substantially higher premiums. These employees could find themselves priced out of employer-sponsored coverage, a development that would undermine the intent of many of the ACA’s key insurance reforms.
  • Ensuring employees are fully informed about any financial responsibility associated with wellness programs. No employee should have to wonder if there is a financial obligation that comes with participating or choosing not to participate in an employer wellness program.

To read the National Partnership’s full letter on the proposed rules for designing and implementing employee wellness programs, go here.