Employer-sponsored health plans find solace in private exchanges

Data security and wellness programs were a primary focus for lawmakers, insurers and business representatives during a Senate subcommittee hearing Thursday on employer-sponsored health plans that are reaping the benefits of switching to a private exchange.  

Tresia Franklin, director of rewards and employee relations at Hallmark Cards, testified before the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions that her company has been able to tailor its health plan options to the needs of its workforce through a private exchange.

More employers are engaging in wellness programs as a way to control healthcare costs. Amy McDonough, vice president and general manager of FitBit Wellness, testified that the company has started working with large employers "to help improve the health and livelihood of their employee populations" by providing employers access to health data and trends. She pointed to several instances where employers have reduced insurance premiums by 6 percent and lowered overall costs by 3.5 percent through FitBit's wellness program.

Wellness programs are "intuitively appealing" to employers and can be influential if properly designed, according to Sabrina Corlette, J.D., research professor and project director for the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University. However, she added that tying wellness achievements to premiums often creates barriers to care, and there is "disturbing evidence" that wellness programs carry significant privacy risks since vendors aggregate large amounts of personal health data.

Last month, guidance from the Office of Civil Rights indicated that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requires workplace wellness programs within employer-sponsored plans to have "reasonable" technical safeguards.

To learn more:
- watch the Senate subcommittee hearing
- read Tresia Franklin's testimony
- here's John Zern's testimony
- see Sabrina Corlette's testimony
- here's Amy McDonough's testimony

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