As our staffing software clients move forward with their decision making and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, one of the items that should be looked at is the implementation of a wellness program. On May 29, 2013 the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor and Treasury departments issued final regulations on implementation and expansion of employee based wellness programs. For those of you looking for the high points that don’t want to read through all 123 pages (!), the final regulations pretty closely match what were proposed initially. There are a few items of note that you should be aware of however:
• The employer has a great deal of flexibility and latitude in implementation.
• These rules do not supersede in any way the GINA, ADA, ERISA, and other state and federal discrimination laws. Expect further guidance from the EEOC on wellness program incentives.
• The rules clarify and provide an affirmative defense against ACA provisions based on health status. So long as the wellness program provides a “reward”—a discount or rebate on premiums or some other financial incentive it is permissible. The most ironic and probably the one that will be most written about is this can also include a premium surcharge (reward?!) if you fail to follow through with a smoking cessation program for example.
• There is a special focus on the reduction in use of tobacco and the rules increase the maximum possible reward to 50% on those wellness programs.
There are a lot of requirements and rules regarding wellness programs and BWSI recommends you work with a qualified and certified wellness program company. One of the key focuses of the final regulations is that everyone participating in a wellness program should be able to receive the full value of the reward. Let’s face it, losing weight or quitting smoking is very difficult, so to further incentivize wellness participants, they may have to submit to additional program requirements to receive the full value of the reward. While some research questions the efficacy of wellness programs, they aren’t going anywhere and could be a valuable tool to reduce absenteeism and increase productivity of your employees.