Bill Would Eliminate ‘Confusion’ Over Wellness Programs Caused By EEOC Scrutiny

Congressional Republicans have introduced legislation in both the House and Senate that would “eliminate the confusion caused by the EEOC for employers who provide financial rewards to employees for healthy lifestyle choices.” Introduced on March 2 by Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in the Senate and Jon Kline (R-Minn.) in the House, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (S. 620/H.R. 1189) would reaffirm the right of employers under the law to offer wellness programs that are tied to a financial reward. Specifically, the legislation would “clarify rules relating to nondiscriminatory employer wellness programs as such programs relate to premium discounts, rebates, or modifications to otherwise applicable cost sharing under group health plans.”

A bipartisan provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allows employers to discount health insurance premiums by up to 30 percent (or 50 percent if approved by the Departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services) for healthy lifestyle choices like quitting smoking or maintaining a healthy cholesterol level. However, recent litigation pursued by the EEOC, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, has threatened the certainty of law for employers who offer these programs, according to bill sponsors.
The legislation would reaffirm existing law and clarify that an employee’s spouse may participate in the program as well. It also provides employees up to 180 days to request and complete an alternative wellness program if it is medically inadvisable or unreasonably difficult for an employee to participate in the original employee wellness program.

“More and more, employers are using outcomes-based programs to make health insurance less expensive for their employees,” said Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “Nearly half of all large employers say they plan to offer one these innovative plans in 2015, making it even more important to eliminate confusion caused by the EEOC and restore certainty for employers who want to reward their employees for leading a healthy lifestyle.” Indeed, according to a recent survey by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health, 46 percent of large employers plan to offer one of these programs in 2015.

The proposed legislation would ensure that private employers may utilize voluntary incentives like premium discounts to promote employee health and wellness, “rather than heavy-handed federal mandates and taxes,” according to Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), one of the bill’s sponsors.
“Employee wellness programs not only help control the cost of health insurance,” said Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, “but they also promote healthy lifestyles. Remarkably, executive overreach by the EEOC is actually punishing employers for offering wellness plans. Congress must take action to rein in this agency and provide the certainty necessary for more Americans to enjoy the benefits of these innovative health programs.”

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