To be generous, I could just chalk this up to one hand not knowing what the other might be trying to manipulate.

In this instance, I’m talking about the position taken on wellness by the Obama administration and how the starched shirts at the IRS feel about it.

In case you missed the news, reported on this site about a week ago, the IRS thinks employers shouldn’t be allowed to include their wellness programs when trying to calculate the minimum value of eligible health care plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Regardless of how you feel about PPACA, I think most would agree this is a maddening example of government dysfunction.

According to the IRS view of things, only anti-smoking wellness programs should qualify to help employers meet the minimum coverage requirements that allow them to avoid paying an excise tax penalty.

Problem is, the PPACA was written with the idea that more employers would put wellness programs in place or expand their existing programs to help improve the health of Americans and help control health care spending.

Specifically, the hope is that more employers might reimburse workers for the cost of fitness center membership; reward employees for attending a monthly, no-cost health education seminar; or that they reward employees who complete health risk assessments.

Generally, all of that sounds good to most employees, especially those who really don’t mind a little help in trying to become or stay fit. But a lot less of this sort of support is likely from employers if they aren’t allowed to factor the costs of such items in their health plans.

Perversely, this news is welcome to labor unions and consumer groups that argued wellness programs can discriminate against unhealthy employees.

To which, I’d say, “C’mon!!”

This is nothing less than an example of putting the interests of a few way ahead of the interests of the group.

Ben Parzbok, founder of a Portland, Ore.-based wellness firm called Walker Tracker, called it “terribly short-sighted.”

“It reminds me of a health care system and pharmacological industry that in general tends to treat symptoms rather than address the causes of illness,” he said. “This could significantly cut back on the adoption of corporate wellness programs.

“Instead of potentially averting employee health issues altogether,” he continued, “we’ll be treating them in the emergency rooms, with far greater expense. I’ll steal from Benjamin Franklin here: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

PPACA is nothing, if not, a huge experiment in social engineering. If the government is going to cram it down employers’ throats, the least it can do is make it a bit more palatable going down.

You can click here to read the IRS’s proposed ruling. The public has until July 2 to submit comments to the IRS for changes.

I’m sure this is wishful thinking on my part, but my hope is that by then someone at Health and Human Services can talk some sense into the IRS.

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