Structuring Legal, Ethical, And Practical Workplace Health Incentives: A Reply to Horwitz, Kelly, And DiNardo
April 23rd, 2013
This commentary is in response to the March 5, 2013 Health Affairs article, “Wellness Incentives in the Workplace: Cost Savings through Cost Shifting to Unhealthy Lifestyles.” In that article, Jill Horwitz and coauthors express concerns about new rules governing workplace health promotion (wellness) programs due to take effect in 2014 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2011, Public Law 111-148 (“ACA”). In addition to increasing access to health care services for all Americans, the ACA aims to place greater emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention and to encourage employer adoption of workplace wellness programs.
As I discuss below, some of the concerns raised by Horwitz et al. are legitimate points that I agree with. However, I believe that Horwitz and her colleagues go too far when they appear to question the basic idea that employees with modifiable health risks cost more than those without such risks, calling into question the entire concept of workplace wellness programs and indeed of prevention in general. In this post, I explain how well-designed wellness programs can benefit both employers and employees, and I offer some suggestions to ensure that such programs are both effective and fair.
A specific provision of the ACA (Section 2705), which is at the heart of the controversy addressed by Horwitz et al., will allow employers to design incentive-based wellness programs that reward not only participation in health promotion programs but also “outcomes” related to having healthy habits and managing biometric values within “normal” ranges. Under the new rules, financial incentives (e.g., different health plan designs, payment terms, premiums levels, deductibles, co-insurance or co-payments) could be offered to workers who are nonsmokers, are at a given weight or BMI, or are effectively controlling their blood pressure, total cholesterol, and blood glucose. Rewards or incentives would also be made available to employees who eat a healthy diet or are physically active.Read the rest of this entry »