Workplace Wellness Programs: Great Potential—but Devil Is in Details, Says New Brief from Greenlining, Prevention Institutes
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has boosted interest in the use of workplace wellness programs as a strategy for preventing chronic disease and injuries. However, while these programs have the potential to improve the health of employees, the devil is most definitely in the details. Current approaches aren’t relevant for many workplaces and may actually increase health inequities if they penalize employees for factors outside of their control such as greater access to nutritious food and healthy physical activity. Three federal departments—Labor, Treasury, Health and Human Services—have issued proposed rules that would govern workplace wellness programs set up as part of group health insurance policies established under the ACA.
A new report from the Greenlining Institute and Prevention Institute, Health, Equity, and the Bottom Line: Workplace Wellness and California Small Businesses, explores the risks and benefits that could emerge as California's small businesses begin to implement workplace wellness programs. The findings and recommendations have relevance for public and private sector decision makers and workplace wellness policy across the country. We also wrote about this in a column for the Hill published last week.
The brief includes discussion of several critical issues. One is a trend now emerging that would tie worker healthcare premiums to health behaviors and status such as weight and cholesterol levels. Such a policy, part of the proposed new rules, could have major economic impacts for individual workers. According to the Washington Post, “American families with average health benefits could have $6,688 a year riding on blood tests and weigh-ins.” It’s also unfair: Certain employees will be more able to achieve incentives because they have greater access to clean and safe parks, fitness facilities and walkable streets as well as to affordable, healthy food. Read the brief, then click here to let policy makers know that tying healthcare premiums to health behaviors and status is a bad and punitive idea that runs counter to the intent of the ACA by creating barriers to affordable coverage for those who need it most.