Recently the Seattle Times published a story focusing on the effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, on employer provided health insurance benefits. The article addresses many employee concerns, such as reduced hours to avoid required employee coverage, increased premiums, and changes in benefits. It also discusses a feature and change that has not received a lot of coverage: employer sponsored wellness programs.
A growing number of employers have been offering wellness programs over the years. Some programs include employer covered gym memberships, employer sponsored health and wellness education
classes, on-site fitness centers, and employee support groups. Additionally, some employers began reducing employee insurance premiums up to 20 percent if certain health goals or levels are met through the programs. Wellness programs are an attempt to create a healthier and less expensive, in terms of health insurance costs, workforce. Healthier employees tend to take few sick days, which help businesses run more efficiently.
New Incentives for Wellness Programs
The ACA allows employers to provide greater benefits with their wellness programs. This will hopefully encourage more employees to take part and reduce both the employer’s and the employees’
insurance costs. For instance, employees who take part in smoking reduction programs could pay 50 percent less than smokers who do not. Also, employers will be able to provide up to 30 percent reductions in premiums for those who meet wellness program goals.
Additionally, the ACA allows employers to design and implement their own wellness programs to meet their employees’ needs, so long as they are reasonable and promote health or disease prevention. Thus, an employer with many employee smokers could create a wellness program specifically targeting smokers, whereas an employer in an area with a high cancer or obesity rates could create programs encouraging cancer screenings and fitness. The Seattle Times article points out that some of the goals and health metrics employees must meet for the added benefits may be hard for
certain individuals to achieve, due to age or current health situations. But, the ACA requires employers to offer alternative methods for receiving the benefits. For instance, preventive screenings, health assessments, and nutrition education programs could be alternatives to reaching a set weight or body mass number for those who physically cannot do the necessary exercises for significant weight loss, but may be able to make other positive health changes that lead to weight loss over time.
Washington employers can offer the increased benefits with their wellness programs starting this year. Those employers with 50 full-time employees or more, once the employer specific portion of the ACA takes effect, will have to begin offering their full-time employees health insurance benefits. Investigating and implementing wellness programs may be a proactive step in reducing current and future insurance premiums and costs, as well as creating a stronger, healthier, and more productive workforce before that portion of the law goes into effect.If you have questions or concerns about your employee benefits like health insurance, an experienced Washington employment law attorney can help.