News Releases

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Isakson Joins Senate, House Leaders in Introducing Bill to Combat Lawsuits against Innovative Employee Wellness Programs

Legislation seeks to eliminate confusion, provide certainty for employers who provide financial rewards to employees for healthy lifestyle choices

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., introduced legislation this week to reaffirm employers are within their legal rights to offer a financial reward in the form of lower health insurance premiums to employees who voluntarily make healthy lifestyle choices or who complete wellness programs.

The legislation is designed to provide legal certainty and to eliminate confusion for employers, some of whom are being sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, for offering the financial rewards. The EEOC is a federal agency tasked with enforcement of federal non-discrimination laws.

“This legislation ensures what Congress has already decided – private companies are free to promote health and wellness among their employees through voluntary incentives like premium discounts, rather than heavy-handed federal mandates and taxes.  I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of the Preserving Employee Wellness Program Act, and applaud employers that put in place such programs to lower health care costs for employees while also creating a healthy workforce,” said Isakson, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety.

The legislation would reaffirm that Obamacare allows workplace wellness programs that offer employees a financial reward for making healthy lifestyle choices. It also clarifies an employee’s spouse may participate in the workplace wellness program. Additionally, the legislation provides legal certainty for employers offering innovative workplace wellness programs to improve the health of their employees.

On Monday, March 2, 2015, Isakson introduced the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act along with Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Tim Scott, R-S.C., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

“More and more, employers are using outcomes-based programs to make health insurance less expensive for their employees,” said Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “Nearly half of all large employers say they plan to adopt these innovative plans by 2017, making it even more important to eliminate confusion caused by the EEOC and restore certainty for employers who want to reward their employees for leading a healthy lifestyle.”

U.S. Representatives John Kline, R-Minn., and Tim Walberg, R-Mich., also introduced House companion legislation yesterday.

Background:

A provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as Obamacare, allows employers to discount health insurance premiums by up to 30 percent – or by as much as 50 percent if approved by the Departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services – for healthy lifestyle choices such as quitting smoking or maintaining a healthy cholesterol level.

However, the EEOC has sued employers over these program, arguing that they violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The lawsuits have caused confusion among employers about whether they are legally clear to offer the wellness programs.

The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act would reaffirm existing law that allows for employee wellness programs tied to a financial reward. The legislation would also provide employees up to 180 days to request and complete an alternative wellness program if it is medically inadvisable or unreasonably difficult for an employee to participate in the original employee wellness program. Finally, the legislation does not limit the EEOC’s authority to investigate and litigate complaints of employment discrimination.

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