New federal confidentiality rules for wellness programs for 2017: A review

Keeping employees healthy can certainly keep corporate America happy, and corporate wellness programs are designed to foster strong mental and physical health for employees. These programs are growing in popularity, but beginning in 2017, they will have some new federal compliance guidelines that they’ll have to follow. Earlier this year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission put forth new confidentiality requirements on employers gathering health information in connection with wellness programs. This information applies to health and wellness programs defined as “health promotion and disease prevention programs and activities offered to employees as part of an employer-sponsored group health plan or separately as a benefit of employment.”

Plexus alerted clients earlier this year regarding this ruling, explaining that effective January 1, 2017, this final rule requires employers who offer wellness programs and are collecting employee health information to provide a notice to employees informing them what information will be collected, how it will be used, who will receive it, and what will be done to keep it confidential.

Wellness programs often gather health information through voluntary health risk assessments (HRAs) or voluntary biometric screenings including medical examinations (such as tests to detect high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes). This final rule for confidentiality reqirements does not change existing ACA limits on wellness incentives which offer cost savings for employees, with a 30 percent incentive limit for wellness programs and a 50 percent incentive limit for tobacco cessation programs.

In short, this means that employees meeting certain health incentives can receive a lower health insurance rate. However, the program offered by a company must also meet certain criteria for these lower rates to take effect, including offer a reasonable chance of improving an employee’s health, one that is not overly burdensome, or that promotes any form of employee discrimination, or is highly suspect in the method chosen to promote health and prevention.

For more information on the new wellness rules as well as best practices for wellness programs, reach out to a Plexus Groupe client service team representative at 847.307.6100 (Deer Park, Ill. / Chicagoland), 312-606-4800 (Chicago/Loop), 972-770-5010 (Dallas) or 405-840-3033 (Oklahoma City), or contact us via the Web.

References

Small Business Fact Sheet Final Rule on Employer-Sponsored Wellness Programs and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

EEOC's Final Rule on Employer Wellness Programs and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. National Archives and Records Administration. Federal Register.