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EEOC's proposed wellness program guidelines up for debate

HHS, CMS issued separate rules in response to EEOC's proposal

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued proposed rules last week for employer-based wellness programs that aim to reconcile guidelines under both the Affordable Care Act and Americans with Disabilities (ADA). However, the guidelines may be up for debate with other federal agencies.  

The EEOC clearly stated that wellness programs are allowed under ADA and are not allowed to discriminate against individuals with disabilities. Under the ACA, companies can offer incentives of up to 30 percent of employees' health insurance benefits in return for wellness program participation.

The new guidelines came out after the EEOC filed a lawsuit last year against New Jersey-based Honeywell over its wellness program, arguing it violates the ADA. At the time, Honeywell required employees and their spouses to take biometric tests or risk facing fines, claiming such tests encourage healthy lifestyles.  

Thanks to the rule, "The EEOC has removed the cloud of uncertainty," for employers who've had difficulty understanding conflicting guidelines under both the ACA and ADA, Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy at the Washington-based National Business Group on Health, told Bloomberg.

While EEOC's efforts take a step forward to align wellness program policies, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the Treasury Department, have different opinions. 

CMS issued a set of answers to frequently asked questions regarding wellness programs. CMS warned that insurers cannot offer wellness programs that affect premiums, cost-sharing levels or provider networks. If they do, offering the wellness program would be considered part of the plan design, which would have to be made available to every employer in the state and market, the agency said.

HHS also issued a set of answers to FAQs, which stated that wellness programs must be designed to promote health or prevent a disease. Additionally, HHS said that, if employees go to lengths to fill out personal information, programs must make an equal amount of effort to fulfill participants' health goals.

For more:
- here's the EEOC statement
- check out the Bloomberg article
- here's the CMS announcement (.pdf)
- here's the HHS announcement (.pdf)

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