Employers and insurers are now limited on what they can offer in their incentives for wellness programs due to a maze of federal rules. Congress is considering giving employers new authority to reward their employees for healthy practices, such as exercise, better diet, weight loss and smoking cessation. Senators on both side of the aisle are working on comprehensive health legislation. They agree that prevention and wellness should be the centerpiece of healthcare reform. Democrats Tom Harkin, Iowa, and Max Baucus, Montana, as well as Republicans John Cornyn, Texas, and Orrin Hatch, Utah, are taking the lead to create such motivations.
Companies have found that by building wellness programs, health costs have decreased, and created an increase in worker productivity. Under the proposals of members of Congress, companies could obtain tax credits or subsidies for programs that offer periodic screenings for health problems or counseling for employees to understand the benefits of healthier lifestyles. There could also be financial rewards or penalties to encourage healthy behavior of their workers.
Some of the benefits that are already in place in many large companies are:
- Free Immunizations
- Employee Assistance Programs
- Physical Fitness Programs
- Wellness Newsletters
- Weight Management
Programs such as this help people control blood pressure, fight obesity, and manage other chronic conditions, such as diabetes.
Critics that are opposed to government involvement feel that employees should be rewarded for the job they do, and not be penalized if they don’t exercise, eat properly, or maintain healthy life styles. However, federal officials feel that the rewards and penalties can be used in an ethical way. Unhealthy behavior of some employees may affect their co-workers, such as driving up health care costs for the whole group.
If the lawmakers are successful in passing this legislation, it will enable employers to establish better health practices for their employees. It will be interesting to see if employers’ participation grows, resulting in a healthier workforce.