Some employers are trying to make employees more health conscious by setting up wellness programs.
Logically, a healthier work force should lead to lower health insurance premiums. Employers may want to pass some or all of the savings on to wellness program participants by reducing those employees’ share of coverage costs.
Although this philosophy seems to benefit everyone involved, it raises questions about privacy and how far an employer should go to promote a wellness initiative.
Here are two examples:
–Company A says it will fire employees who smoke or fail to quit smoking within a year.
–Company B hires an outside vendor to run a voluntary incentive program that can cut out-of-pocket health care costs for employees who make healthy choices. Employees do not have to improve their health to get rewards. They simply have to show they have made an effort to improve their health.
Company A might make employees angry and get negative press.
But what about Company B? Is Company B’s program legal?
Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating based on age, gender, race, disability, national origin or religion. While most wellness initiatives do not fall under any of these categories, it is important for employers to know that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has guidelines that must be followed to ensure the wellness program is nondiscriminatory and considered ‘bona fide.’ Proposed factors that make a wellness program bona fide, by HIPAA standards, are as follows: