The Labor Department has laid out new regulations that would mostly prevent employers from requiring that employees with self-inflicted health problems pay more for health insurance or carry higher deductibles than their healthier coworkers. HIPAA standards require that in group health plans, everyone pays the same premiums without regard for health status. But supplemental coverage has been exempted from these rules, and some employers had started providing incentives using supplemental coverage.
I have a friend here in Colorado who worked for an employer that provided deductible incentives to employees to maintain basic health standards. The deductible was set at $2500 for all employees. Then the employees could opt to participate in a confidential screening program to test four areas of basic wellness that are all within an individuals control. BMI, cholesterol, blood pressure, and nicotine use were all tested at the screening. Employees could receive a $500 deductible credit for each test passed – meaning within normal limits on the first three factors, and no nicotine use. So a non-smoker with normal BMI, cholesterol, and blood pressure would have her deductible reduced to $500. The deductible credits are provided through a supplemental Colorado health insurance company.
Employees who did not pass the screening tests could enroll in a wellness program provided by the employer. The wellness program was designed to help the employees get the basic aspects of their health under control. After completing the program, the employees would be screened again to determine improvement and possible health insurance deductible credits.
It disappoints me to see that the DOL considers financial incentives for employees to better their health to be discriminatory. In the end of the day, we’re each responsible for our own health. Health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, doctors and hospitals can only do so much. If we’re not willing to tackle the basics ourselves, nothing else is going to work either. And it’s highly unfair to expect people who really work hard at maintaining good health to have to pay as much for their health care as the people who take no interest in their own well being. We’re not talking about demerits for poor health here, rather incentives that would be available to any employee – without discrimination – to better his own health. I hope that the DOL will reconsider their position and continue to allow employers to provide incentives for good health.