Is Workplace Wellness Sick?

Eighty-five percent of large employers who offer health insurance now include a wellness program in their suite of employee benefits. These programs are designed to help people stop smoking, lose weight, and add other health actions, according to a 2017 survey by Kaiser Family Foundation. In recent years, many of these programs include medical screenings which go beyond an employee completed questionnaire. Incentives in plans vary; common rewards include fitness trackers and other merchandise or, most importantly, discounts on what employees pay towards health insurance coverage.

What’s happened in the workplace is that financial incentives, especially those that involve premium discounts for health insurance, have compelled employees to participate in programs that often include clinical testing and disclosure of personal information. In exchange for this information, the employee may qualify for a discount on health insurance premiums as high as 30 percent.

This 30 percent ceiling was set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2016, but was recently set aside by two court rulings which take effect January 1, 2019. The EEOC, which was unable to produce a reason for this financial incentive limit, has indicated that it would not establish a new limit until 2021.

Where does this leave the employer who offers a wellness program with financial incentives? The answer is unclear to everyone, including benefits consultants. It seems unlikely that employers will abandon these programs–many offer attractive financial incentives for simple actions such as counting steps on a daily basis.

Time will tell. Open enrollment is almost here and with it, a list of employer sponsored benefits.

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