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On the Third Hand: Wellness

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Scott Behrens has identified a strange development at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): As if the economy, Ebola and the new health law aren’t causing enough challenges for employers, the EEOC is starting to go to court to block ordinary wellness programs.

The Lockton compliance analyst notes that the EEOC started off suing over wellness programs that required employers to go through biometric screening programs to get employer help with paying for health coverage.

Now, Behrens writes in a commentary for Lockton, the EEOC has moved on to trying to block an ordinary Honeywell wellness program that simply imposes a health insurance premium surcharge on employees and spouses who do not complete biometric screenings.

The Honeywell program also imposes a penalty on tobacco-using employees and spouses that fail to submit to testing for tobacco use.

On the one hand: Maybe policymakers and employers should have a careful conversation before the country lets employers require group plan enrollees to participate in biometric screening programs to get any employer help at all with paying for coverage, and especially if that employer is subject to Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) coverage rules.

Even if an employer or a broker thinks Congress should kill PPACA entirely, or all state and federal health insurance mandates entirely, letting some employers use tricky or onerous wellness program rules to shut workers out of health benefits might lead to confusion among workers, and to some employers with group health plans getting an unfair advantage over others.

But, on the other hand, it seems as of employers have enough on their plates this year without the EEOC going to court over concerns about wellness programs.

On the third hand, maybe PPACA opponents should welcome this sort of EEOC overreach as the kind of activity that helps their cause, by casting doubt on the ability of federal regulatory agencies to implement PPACA and other federal laws in a reasonable way.