The Emerging Contours of the Rules Governing Wellness Programs

As the costs of providing health insurance continue to rise, employers have soughtwith limited successto find options to hold down costs. One of the few promis­ing approaches in an otherwise bleak cost-containment landscape is the workplace wellness program. While the evidence supporting of the efficacy of workplace well­ness programs is mixed, U.S. employers,1 large employ­ers in particular,2 have embraced these arrangements. The consensus seems to be that workplace wellness programs improve workforce health, thereby diminish­ing the demand for services at the margins.

Wellness programs come in all shapes and sizes. They may be (or be or integrated with) group health plans, or not. A wellness program that simply offers dis­counts on gym memberships, for example, is not a group health plan; a wellness program under which an employee qualifies for discounted group health plan premiums is integrated with a group health plan; and an arrangement where the employer simply provides biometric screenings and health coaching but offers no other major medical coverage is its own stand-alone group health plan. Whatever the form, these programs share a common need to navigate a shock­ingly complex legal and regulatory environment.

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