News Releases

Friday, July 15, 2016

Isakson Fights Administration Attack on Bipartisan Workplace Wellness Programs

Isakson, Alexander resolutions will prevent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from moving ahead with two rules that make it harder for American workers to choose healthy lifestyles, save money

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., introduced two resolutions to block the Obama administration’s attack on workplace wellness programs, which allow employees to save money on their health care premiums by making healthy lifestyle choices. 

“The latest regulation from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has created another needless layer of bureaucracy for businesses,” said Isakson, who is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety. “Unelected bureaucrats have no place overriding a law expressly passed by Congress and stopping business owners from offering wellness plans to help their employees improve their health. This is yet another example of the Obama administration ignoring the plain text of the president’s own health care law in order to appease special interest groups. I’m proud to join in this effort to prevent this blatant overreach and put business decisions back in the hands of employers who best understand their own workers’ health care needs.” 

A bipartisan provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allows employers to discount health insurance premiums by up to 30 percent—or 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 that help lead to reduced health care costs over time. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has attempted to block these workplace wellness programs in direct contradiction of existing law and regulation. For example, the commission has sued several employers that were operating lawfully under the health care law for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued final rules in May in response to concerns from Congress and American employers. The commission said the rules were intended to provide clarity about how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission believes the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act apply to employee wellness programs, but the rules are inconsistent with current law and bipartisan congressional intent. Congress asked the agency to “make significant changes” to its proposed wellness rules last year, but the final rules released were substantially similar to what the agency originally proposed.

The resolutions introduced by Isakson and Alexander would use the Congressional Review Act to block the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s final rules. Under the Congressional Review Act, the Senate and House vote on a joint resolution of disapproval to stop, with the full force of law, a federal agency from implementing a rule or regulation or issuing a substantially similar regulation without congressional authorization. A resolution of disapproval only needs a simple majority to pass and cannot be filibustered or amended. 

Earlier this Congress, Alexander and Isakson also introduced The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act with Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Tim Scott, R-S.C., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, in the Senate, as well as House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., and Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., in the U.S. House to reaffirm existing law, which allows for employee wellness programs tied to a financial incentive.

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