June 4, 2013
In spite of the evidence from a report published last week that confirmed workplace wellness programmes don’t achieve what they set out to do, American employees will be eligible for significantly lower premiums on any health insurance they buy through employers if they participate in the schemes. The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, will allow US employers to increase the rewards they offer employees who participate in workplace wellness programs. The goal is to improve employees’ health by helping them give up smoking or lose weight in a bid to curb medical costs and absenteeism. Under the rules issued last week, employers must structure programmes so that every individual participating can receive the full amount of any reward or incentive, regardless of any health factor.
Critics argue not only that such schemes are ineffectual but that the structure of the new rules will effectively deter employers from offering health cover. The proponents of the rules argue that the programmes should not be “a subterfuge for discrimination,” for example by penalising smokers who cannot kick their addiction. Starting in 2014, the rules will allow companies to reward employees who participate in workplace wellness programs by reducing their health insurance premiums up to 30 percent, which could be thousands of dollars a year.
Under current law, employers can discount healthcare premiums by 20 percent, but most offer rewards of between 3 percent and 11 percent.The incentives could increase to 50 percent for programs designed to prevent or reduce smoking. Companies can also penalise employees by charging higher premiums for workers who do not participate in a wellness programme. Smokers can pay up to 50 percent more for their healthcare than their non-smoking colleagues.