GOP introduces bill to protect employee wellness programs

Republican Senate and House leaders introduced a bill Tuesday to protect Affordable Care Act-approved employee wellness programs from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The bill aims to "eliminate confusion" among employers who offer wellness programs to their employees.

The legislation--proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.)--intends to "restore certainty for employers who want to reward their employees for leading a healthy lifestyle."

In October, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against New Jersey-based Honeywell over its wellness program, claiming that it is illegal for companies to penalize employees who opt not to participate in biometric and medical tests associated with a wellness program. A few weeks later, a federal judge ruled that wellness programs in the workplace can, in fact, penalize employees for not participating, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

The bill defends employer-sponsored wellness programs, stating that they help promote healthy lifestyles as well as control the cost of insurance. Because wellness programs are becoming increasingly popular, the GOP members want Congress to take measures to preserve them.

"Our healthcare system needs common sense solutions driven by positive outcomes, not more uncertainty caused by the federal government," Sen. Scott wrote in the bill. "Employee wellness plans have been proven to help control health insurance costs, and as more and more employers utilize them it is essential that the EEOC simply clarify its rules instead of pursuing litigation against employers because it has refused to issue guidance."

When it comes to the public's opinion of wellness programs, 76 percent say it's appropriate for employers to offer wellness programs that promote healthy behaviors, while 21 percent consider these programs not appropriate, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Only 22 percent of the public deem it acceptable for employees to pay higher premiums if they don't meet certain health goals, while 74 percent find this inappropriate.

For more:
- here's the bill