Jennifer Mathis went before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee today to defend the proposition that the federal government needs to act to keep employer-sponsored wellness programs from discriminating against people with disabilities.
The Senate HELP Committee — which is now led by Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican — organized the hearing partly in response to employer consternation about federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) moves to take employers to court over wellness programs.
Democrats on the committee expressed support for wellness programs and noted that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) encourages employer use of wellness programs.
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Dr. Catherine Baase, a witness who appeared on behalf of Dow Chemical Company and the American Benefits Council, a group that represents large employers, testified that the EEOC had gone after employers through litigation before even issuing guidance addressing interactions between PPACA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“This is very frustrating for employers who care about the well-being of their employees and take their compliance obligations seriously,” Baase said. “It is impossible for employers to abide by rules that do not exist.”
Mathis, who testified on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, spoke in favor of EEOC efforts to challenge wellness program health risk assessment efforts.
Mathis acknowledged that wellness programs can be useful, but she said regulators should protect workers and job applicants against wellness program components that violate ADA restrictions.