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Report: Employers Put More Emphasis on Wellness

Posted Jun 02 2009 4:38pm

At a time when employers are cutting back on their contributions to employee healthcare costs, expecting employees to pick up more of the tab, a new report indicates that many of those same employers are putting a renewed interest in employee wellness programs. The idea is to get employees to adopt healthier lifestyles which in turn should help reduce overall healthcare costs for the organization and the individual. This is the subject of a recent story in The New York Times titled “Getting Healthy, With a Little Help From the Boss.” Here’s the link to the story: http://tinyurl.com/oj8taa.

Quoting from the May 22, 2009 story:

“According to a January survey by the benefits consulting firm Hewitt Associates, nearly two-thirds of large employers planned to transfer more costs to employees. At the same time, one-third planned to put greater emphasis on wellness plans — programs that encourage employees to adopt healthier lifestyles.” (Source: The New York Times, May 22, 2009)

The story goes on to point out that employers are taking serious steps to encourage their employees to adopt healthy habits:

“About 80 percent of big employers offer health risk surveys, which are aimed at identifying health problems or potential health problems. And 60 percent of employers give financial incentives to employees who fill them out, according to a joint survey by the benefits consulting firm Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health, an association of more than 300 large employers.” (Source: The New York Times, May 22, 2009)

So is it acceptable for employers to delve into employees’ health information? Here’s what The New York Times article had to say about the matter:

“According to privacy laws, the information you provide to the plan administrators cannot be used by your employer for any purpose related to your employment status. In addition, an employer cannot deny health insurance to an employee for failure to complete a health risk questionnaire, says Martin J. Moderson, vice chairman of employee benefits and executive compensation at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.

While many employers offer incentives for filling out health surveys, there is some debate over whether it is legal for them to do so. Under the federal health privacy law known by its acronym, Hipaa (pronounced HIP-ah), your employer can provide an incentive for filling out a risk survey, as long as the reward does not exceed 20 percent of the cost of coverage under the plan, and certain other requirements are satisfied, Mr. Moderson said.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, however, has questioned whether such incentives would violate the American with Disabilities Act. If you feel coerced into filling out a questionnaire, or annoyed that some employees get paid for doing so, speak to the human resources department.”  (Source: The New York Times, May 22, 2009)

This is a really good article about a growing trend. I encourage you to check it out online at http://tinyurl.com/oj8taa.

Post by Dan Dunlop, The Healthcare Marketer

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