Employee Benefits Healthcare Reform

National Employee Wellness Month – Wellness Gets Better Thanks to Obamacare

Employee Wellness Month June 2013 is the 5th annual National Employee Wellness Month. With new guidelines recently released by the Obama administration, wellness is currently the HR issue du jour. Employers can offer employees a 30 percent discount on health premiumsfor participation in wellness programs, up from 20 percent previously, and 50 percent for participating in tobacco cessation programs.
This is good news for employees looking for ways to insure themselves and their families while reducing premiums. And it’s good news for employers too, who hope to have healthier employees and the benefits that go along with that, such as lower absentee rates and increased productivity.

There is a flip side to wellness programs though. Not all employees are able to participate in programs due to physical or medical limitations, leading some to worry about discrimination against employees with medical issues and conditions like pregnancy. And studies observing the effects of wellness initiatives on saving money and changing behaviors haven’t proven definitive results.

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury issued final rules on employment-based wellness programs on May 29, 2013, to be effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2014. The rules pertain to two kinds of wellness programs: participatory wellness programs and health-contingent wellness programs.

Participatory wellness programs apply to all employees regardless of health status, such as programs that offer incentives to complete activities such as health assessments. Health-contingent wellness programs reward employees for meeting specific health-related standards such as tobacco cessation plans.

The new rules are designed to give employers flexibility in health and wellness offerings while protecting employee consumers by requiring health-contingent wellness plans be reasonable, uniformly available to all similar employees, and accommodate the medical recommendations of employees’ doctors.

Virgin Health Miles and Workforce Management Magazine conducted a survey of more than 1,200 employers and 9,000 employees to gain an in-depth understanding of the impact of health and wellness benefits.

The top five survey findings revealed some interesting information.

1. More than 85 percent of employees surveyed said health and wellness programs are important to them.

2. More than half of employees surveyed said health and wellness programs positively affect the culture at work and the people in their lives, including co-workers, family, and friends.

3. 67 percent of employees said incentives for wellness programs are why they participate.

4. More than 80 percent of employees said communication about wellness programs is a problem and they need to know more about their employers’ programs.

5. Measurement of health and wellness programs results is a problem and needs improvement.

With support from the government and acceptance by employees, studies are showing how wellness programs impact employers and employees in positive ways. They give employees direction and incentives to transition to a healthier lifestyle, and they give employers a retention tool, as well as ways to control health insurance costs and build their corporate culture.

Even with the need for improvements in communication and education about wellness programs, employers and employees alike benefit from them.

Today’s Author is Heidi Cardenas who is a seasoned Human Resources copy writer and passionate about human resource topics for today’s business.

Image Credit: Stuart Miles

Tess Taylor

Tess Taylor is the Founder and CEO of HR Knows

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