Alexander: EEOC Workplace “Wellness” Rules Will Make it Harder for Employees to Choose Healthy Lifestyles and Save Money
Law gave administration authority to allow employers to offer 50% discount on premiums - EEOC is taking that authority away
“Wellness programs are the only part of Obamacare that everyone agreed on—everyone except the EEOC. The administration is in the strange position of disagreeing with itself.”
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 16 – The Senate health and labor committee chairman today said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) final rules on workplace wellness programs released today “will make it harder for employees to choose healthy lifestyles and to save money.”
“Wellness programs are the only part of Obamacare that everyone agreed on—everyone except the EEOC,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “Congress was clear in its support of workplace wellness programs in the health care law—just about the only provision in the law with bipartisan support—and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury were clear in their regulations implementing the law. It seems the EEOC is the only one missing the mark.”
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allowed employers to offer discounts on health insurance premiums by up to 50 percent if approved by the three federal agencies—and those agencies have used that authority in 2013 to approve a 50 percent discount for smoking cessation. The EEOC rules today say that any discount above 30 percent may be discriminatory.
“The EEOC is taking away authority that Congress gave the administration and overruling the actions of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury,” Alexander said. “Today’s rules contradict the law and continue the confusion the agency has caused, so Congress will need to act to help employees seeking to improve their health, while bringing down their insurance costs.”
Alexander said he will push his bicameral legislation, The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, to reaffirm existing law. He said he is considering introducing resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to overturn the rules by a majority vote in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
A bipartisan provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allowed 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 like quitting smoking or maintaining a healthy cholesterol level that help lead to reduced health care costs over time. However, the EEOC's enforcement of workplace wellness programs has contradicted existing law and regulation. For example, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), the commission sued one employer that was operating lawfully under the health care law.
The EEOC issued today's rules in response to concerns from Congress and American employers. The commission said they are intended to provide clarity about how EEOC believes the ADA and GINA 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 today are substantially similar to what the agency proposed.
The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act was introduced by Alexander and House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.), as well as Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), earlier this Congress to reaffirm existing law, which allows for employee wellness programs tied to a financial reward.
Chairman Alexander said he will work to revise the bicameral legislation in light of the commission’s final rules released today, ensuring that the rules are consistent with current law and do not discourage employers from offering or expanding these innovative, cost-saving programs.
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