01.29.15

Murray: Wellness Programs Improve Health for Workers, Build on Affordable Care Act Progress

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered remarks at a committee hearing on Employer Wellness Programs: Better Health Outcomes and Lower Costs. In her opening statement, Murray highlighted that wellness programs are a key tool to help workers improve their health and drive down costs, but explained that these programs must reflect high standards of workplace equality and fairness. Murray also called for Republicans to join Democrats and build on Affordable Care Act initiatives, like wellness programs, to move our health care system forward for families across the country.

Key Excerpts from Senator Murray’s Remarks:

“...I’m hoping that this kind of hearing on Affordable Care Act initiatives could help us refocus the debate on what really matters. And that is making our health care system work better for the families and communities we serve. To me, this means fighting for more affordability, accessibility, and quality—for a health care system that works for women, families, and seniors and puts their needs first. The Affordable Care Act was a historic step towards this goal. It has helped millions of people get more affordable, quality health care coverage, allowed young people across the country to stay covered, and put power back in the hands of patients—not the insurance companies.”

“One important focus of the Affordable Care Act is to help people stay healthy, and identify serious health risks sooner, through preventive care. It has been exciting to see businesses nationwide respond to incentives included in the law by creating workplace wellness programs to help workers and their families stay healthy, improve quality of care, and reduce health care costs.”

“Workplace wellness programs should be a tool to help all workers improve their health, to strengthen quality of care, and to drive down costs for patients and businesses alike. They should help workers, not discriminate against people with disabilities, or harshly penalize employees who do not take part in wellness activities to boost their bottom line. I am very concerned about the some of the stories I’ve heard about workers being pressured to share personal health information, or losing coverage as a result of companies taking the wrong approach. That’s completely unacceptable. I want to make sure wellness programs can continue to grow as a tool to help employees and not as a tool for discrimination.”

“As I’ve said before, I am hopeful that my Republican colleagues will join Democrats and work together to move our health care system forward, not backward, for families across the country. I hope today’s hearing will be an opportunity to move closer to that goal. Because finding ways to build on the successes many workers and businesses have seen so far with wellness programs would be a great start.”

Full Text of Senator Murray’s Remarks:

“Thank you, Chairman Alexander. And thank you to my colleagues and all of our witnesses for being here.

“I’m especially glad to have a Washington state constituent here to testify—Dr. David Grossman of Group Health in Seattle. Dr. Grossman, thank you for making the trip.

“I’m looking forward to our conversation today. Not only because this is such an important topic, but because I’m hoping that this kind of hearing on Affordable Care Act initiatives could help us refocus the debate on what really matters. And that is making our health care system work better for the families and communities we serve.

“To me, this means fighting for more affordability, accessibility, and quality—for a health care system that works for women, families, and seniors and puts their needs first.

“The Affordable Care Act was a historic step towards this goal. It has helped millions of people get more affordable, quality health care coverage, allowed young people across the country to stay covered, and put power back in the hands of patients—not the insurance companies.

“It is also encouraging new, innovative delivery system reforms that have helped drive down costs for patients. But there is certainly more we need to do to.

“So I’m glad that my Republican colleagues have joined Democrats in a conversation about how employer wellness programs can help improve our health care system, and build on the progress we've made so far.

“One important focus of the Affordable Care Act is to help people stay healthy, and identify serious health risks sooner, through preventive care.

“It has been exciting to see businesses nationwide respond to incentives included in the law by creating workplace wellness programs to help workers and their families stay healthy, improve quality of care, and reduce health care costs.

“I’m very impressed, for example, with the results that Dr. Grossman will discuss. In 2010, Group Health partnered with King County in my home state of Washington to offer an alternative, lower-cost health care plan.

“This plan focuses on preventing health problems rather than responding to them after the fact. They’ve seen some great progress so far, like fewer claims for emergency rooms or hospital visits, lower out-of-pocket costs for employees, and very high ratings for quality of care.

“And our other witnesses will also be able to discuss the ways workplace wellness programs and new, innovative approaches to care can make a real difference for workers and their families. 

“As we know, workers are putting in more and more hours on the job. And that makes it all too easy for some of the habits that help us stay healthy, like making an appointment for a check-up or getting some exercise—to fall through the cracks. 

“So I really do appreciate businesses that are helping their employees prioritize their health. But I think all of my colleagues—and the witnesses here today—would agree that it is critical these programs reflect the highest standards of workplace equality and fairness.

“Workplace wellness programs should be a tool to help all workers improve their health, to strengthen quality of care, and to drive down costs for patients and businesses alike.

“They should help workers, not discriminate against people with disabilities, or harshly penalize employees who do not take part in wellness activities to boost their bottom line.

“I am very concerned about the some of the stories I’ve heard about workers being pressured to share personal health information, or losing coverage as a result of companies taking the wrong approach. That’s completely unacceptable.

“I want to make sure wellness programs can continue to grow as a tool to help employees and not as a tool for discrimination.

“I’m glad we have Jennifer Mathis of the Bazelon Center here today to discuss why it is so important businesses uphold these protections. Jennifer, thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time on such short notice to join us, especially with a brand new little one at home.

“And I’m looking forward to hearing from our other witnesses from Dow Chemical and Caesars Entertainment, about the programs they’ve implemented, as well as the amazing success that Chairman Alexander’s constituent, Mr. Abernathy, has had.

“As I’ve said before, I am hopeful that my Republican colleagues will join Democrats and work together to move our health care system forward, not backward, for families across the country.

“I hope today’s hearing will be an opportunity to move closer to that goal.

“Because finding ways to build on the successes many workers and businesses have seen so far with wellness programs would be a great start. Thank you.”

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