A new Health Policy Brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation examines trends in workplace wellness programs and the potential impact of provisions of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. About two-thirds of companies that offer health benefits to workers also provide a wellness program, such as health-risk assessments and screenings for high blood pressure and cholesterol, tobacco cessation, and weight management.

In 2014 a provision of the Affordable Care Act will expand employers’ ability to reward employees who meet health status goals by participating in wellness programs. In effect, that will mean employees who don’t achieve those goals may have to pay more than others for their employer-sponsored health coverage.

This policy brief explains trends in wellness programs, details changes in the law, and highlights issues to watch. Some of the points covered include:

  • What’s in the law? Some wellness programs reward participants for meeting a health goal, such as smoking cessation; others may impose penalties in the form of premium surcharges on those who do not meet program requirements. The Affordable Care Act will increase the permissible employee rewards for participation–and maximum surcharge for failing to do so–from 20 to 30 percent of the total cost of health benefits.
  • What are the concerns? Many employers want employees to bear responsibility for their health behavior and not cause costs to go up for all workers because of preventable health conditions. But many employees and consumer advocates fear that sicker employees will end up bearing the costs through higher premiums. There are also concerns that by instituting programs designed to alter employees’ behavior, employers may be encroaching on employee privacy zones.

About Health Policy Briefs

Health Policy Briefs are aimed at policy makers, congressional staffers, and others who need short, jargon-free explanations of health policy basics. The briefs, which are reviewed by experts in the field, include competing arguments on policy proposals and the relevant research supporting each perspective.

Previous policy briefs have addressed:

  • Essential Health Benefits: States will determine the minimum set of benefits to be included in individual and small group insurance plans. What lies ahead?
  • Premium Support in Medicare: The nation’s fiscal crisis has renewed the focus on structural reform. Can a market-oriented solution cut costs and improve care?
  • Public Reporting on Quality and Costs: Do report cards and other measures of providers’ performance lead to improved care and better choices by consumers?

Sign Up For Health Policy Briefs

Sign up for e-mail alerts about upcoming briefs. The briefs are also available from the RWJF’s Web site. Please feel free to forward to any of your colleagues who are tracking health issues. And after you’ve taken a look, we would welcome your feedback at hpbrief@healthaffairs.org.