Government looks to change workplace wellness program rule

A newly proposed rule from the federal governement, which would allow voluntary employer workplace wellness programs to ask for genetic health information from employees and their spouses, is expected to receive praise from employers but may worry some consumers.

The proposed rule, announced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), looks to change some parts of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008.

In an official statement, the EEOC says that it is mindful of the fact that the new rule would create an exception to the general rule that wellness programs can't provide an incentive for employees to provide genetic information. Therefore, the agency says it has interpreted the exception as narrowly as possible.

Another part of the proposal would allow monetary incentives to encourage employee participation to be set as high as 30 percent of the cost of a family health plan. Employers have been pushing for the ability to tie incentives to the cost of family coverage for years, which would slow down the rise of insurance costs by getting employees to be more active in their own healthcare, according to an article in Kaiser Health News.

Despite potential enthusiasm from employers about this proposed rule change, employees often are wary of sharing personal information with their employers for wellness program purposes. Additionally, there are privacy concerns regarding personal information given to third-party vendors that operate some wellness initiatives.

"Our goal in developing this proposed rule is to provide clarity for employees and employers," EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang said in the official EEOC statement. "We spent considerable time working with our partners to construct a rule that protects workers and their families while encouraging wellness programs that benefit employers and employees alike."

To learn more:
- read the EEOC proposal announcement
- read the full proposed rule
- here's the KHN article

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