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Worker Wellness Programs: Do They Work?

Friday, May 31, 2013

Starting in 2014, employers will be allowed to charge their workers up to 30 percent more for health insurance premiums if they don't meet certain health goals, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). An Alliance for Health Reform briefing, "Worker Wellness Programs: Do They Work?" explained the provisions in the law, and examined employer efforts to improve worker wellness, along with evidence about savings.

Nearly half of large companies offer wellness programs to their employees in an effort to promote healthier lifestyles and control growing medical costs. These programs can take different forms, ranging from smoking cessation programs to penalties for employees who fail to meet employer-defined health targets in such areas as cholesterol, blood pressure, and Body Mass Index (BMI). The ACA encourages businesses to promote healthier behaviors through workplace wellness incentives, and many employers are already moving in this direction. But questions remain about the overall impact of such policies.

What effect can tying wellness incentives to premiums have on workers, and especially less healthy workers? What does the evidence say about wellness programs and costs? Can wellness programs be linked to better health outcomes? What does the ACA say about employer wellness programs? Under the proposed agency rules related to the ACA provisions, what would be permitted and not permitted in wellness program design and practice? What are key concerns about implementing such programs?

A distinguished panel of experts addressed these and related questions.

Paul Dennett, senior vice president for health policy at the American Benefits Council, provided an overview of the ACA provisions.

Mary Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, provided an overview of what different employers are doing, and what the evidence is showing in terms of health outcomes and savings.

Troy Brennan, executive vice president and chief medical officer of CVS Caremark, described his firm's implementation of a worker wellness program.

Jill Horwitz, professor of law at UCLA, highlighted questions about the overall savings and record of wellness programs as raised in her recent Health Affairs article.

Karin Feldman, benefits policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, presented workers' views and concerns about workplace wellness programs.

Ed Howard of the Alliance and David Colby of RWJF co-moderated.

The briefing took place on Friday, May 31 at the Columbus Club in Union Station.

Contact: Marilyn Serafini 202/789-2300

The event is sponsored by the nonpartisan Alliance for Health Reform and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


Paul Dennett, American Benefits Council, Speaker
Mary Grealy, Healthcare Leadership Council, Speaker
Troyen Brennan, CVS Caremark, Speaker
Jill Horwitz, UCLA School of Law, Speaker
Karin Feldman, AFL-CIO, Speaker
David Colby, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Moderator

Transcript, Event Summary and/or Webcast and Podcast

Transcript: Worker Wellness Transcript (Word Document), 5/31/2013
Full Webcast/Podcast: Video recording via C-SPAN

Speaker Presentations

Dennett Presentation (Adobe Acrobat PDF), 5/31/2013
Grealy Presentation (Adobe Acrobat PDF), 5/31/2013
Horwitz Presentation (Adobe Acrobat PDF), 5/31/2013
Feldman Presentation (Adobe Acrobat PDF), 5/31/2013

(If you want to download one or more slides from these presentations, contact us at info@allhealth or click here for instructions.)

Source Materials

Agenda (Adobe Acrobat PDF), , 5/31/2013
Speaker Biographies (Adobe Acrobat PDF), , 5/31/2013
Selected Experts List (Adobe Acrobat PDF), , 5/31/2013
Materials list (Adobe Acrobat PDF), , 5/31/2013

Offsite Materials (briefing documents saved on other websites)

2012 Employer Health Benefits Survey, Kaiser Family Foundation, 9/11/2012
Structuring Legal, Ethical, and Practical Workplace Health Incentives: A Reply to Horwitz, Kelly and DiNardo, Health Affairs Blog, 4/23/2013
Guidance for a Reasonably Designed Employer Sponsored Wellness Program Using Outcomes –Based Incentives, Health enhancement organization, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Diabetes Association and American Heart A, 11/7/2012
Incentives for Nondiscriminatory Wellness Programs in Group Health Plans: Final Rule (Adobe Acrobat PDF),The U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 5/29/2013
Workplace Wellness Programs Study Final Report (Adobe Acrobat PDF),Rand Corporation, 5/1/2013
Wellness Programs: Evaluating the Promises and Pitfalls (Adobe Acrobat PDF),Families USA, 6/1/2012
The Experts: What Role Should Government Play in Combatting Obesity?, The Wall Street Journal, 4/15/2013
A Study Raises Doubts that Workplace Wellness Programs Save Companies Money, The Washington Post, 3/18/2013
Wellness Programs and Nondiscrimination under Employer-Sponsored Group Health Plans: Testimony of Karen Pollitz before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Kaiser Family Foundation, 5/8/2013
Volpp, Kevin et al. Redesigning Employee Health Incentives – Lessons from Behavioral Economics, The New England Journal of Medicine, 8/4/2011
Companies Get Strict on Health of Workers, The New York Times, 3/25/2013
The Ethics of Not Hiring Smokers, The New England Journal of Medicine, 4/11/2013
Premium Incentives to Drive Wellness in the Workplace: A Review of the Issues and Recommendations for Policymakers, Georgetown University Health Policy Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2/1/2012
Mass. Advocates Want to Snuff Out Higher Premiums For Smokers, Kaiser Health News, 5/24/2013
Pathway to Health and Productivity: 2011/2012 Staying@work Survey Report, National Business Group on Health and Towers Watson, 12/1/2011
Obama Administration Continues Moving Forward to Implement Health Care Law by Releasing Final Rules on Employment-Based Wellness Programs, United States Department of Labor, 5/29/2013
Do I Look Fat in this Insurance Plan?, American Enterprise Institute, 4/4/2013
Value of Employee Wellness Programs, The Huffington Post, 3/18/2013
Workplace Wellness Programs, Health Affairs Policy Brief, 5/10/2012
Wellness Incentives in the Workplace: Cost Savings Through Cost Shifting to Unhealthy Workers, Health Affairs, 5/1/2013
Working toward Wellness: Creating Consumer-Friendly Workplace Wellness Programs (Adobe Acrobat PDF), Families USA, 7/1/2012


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