Flexibility for Workplace Wellness Programs
How well do workplace wellness programs really work? Reuters reports the Rand Corporation studied 600 companies and found while there were statistically significant improvements in amount of exercise, weight loss, and smoking reduction, the changes were very minimal.
Furthermore, not all wellness programs are created equally. Keith Lemer, the President of WellNet said “traditional workplace wellness barely scratches the surface". . . "done right, (the program) requires the integration of clinical data, wellness, health coaching, and work flow." The final regulation concerning the Affordable Care Act workplace wellness program, released May 2013, takes program type into consideration.
The regulation categorizes programs as participatory or health-contingent.
- Participants cannot earn a reward from taking part in the program
- Participants cannot earn a reward by achieving a health outcome such as losing weight
- Program examples include funding employee gym membership or health related class. There are no rewards for accomplishing a goal.
Health Contingent programs are divided into two sub-categories, activity only programs and outcome based programs.
Health Contingent Activity Only programs:
- An individual can achieve a reward if he or she performs or finishes a healthy activity.
- Examples of activities include running, biking, or dieting.
Health Contingent Outcome Based Programs:
- An individual can earn a reward if he or she reaches a predetermined health outcome. The award cannot exceed 30% of the coverage cost of an employee. Furthermore, those participating in smoking and tobacco reduction programs can gain rewards of up to 50%.
- Participants usually need to take a test to determine if they reach an outcome. An example outcome is a specified body mass index (BMI).
- If participants meet the outcome, then they earn the reward.
- If a participant cannot reach an outcome, there must be another program option available. The employee can work with his or her physician to determine an appropriate and safe alternative.
Timothy Jost, in Health Affairs Blog states that the program design give employers flexibility to create suitable wellness programs for their business. The different categories of wellness programs mandated by the final regulation give both employers and employees the ability to create a healthier workplace.