Worker Wellness Programs: Do They Work?

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.

Transcript and Video

Full Transcript (Adobe Acrobat PDF)

Speaker Presentations

Paul Dennett Presentation (Adobe Acrobat PDF)
Mary Grealy Presentation (Adobe Acrobat PDF)
Jill Horwitz Presentation (Adobe Acrobat PDF)
Karin Feldman Presentation (Adobe Acrobat PDF)

Event Details

Agenda (Adobe Acrobat PDF)
Speaker Biographies (Adobe Acrobat PDF)

Event Resources