Federal Funds for Workplace Wellness Programs

600px-US-DeptOfHHS-Logo_svg.pngThe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced the availability of $10 million to advance workplace wellness programs for employers.  Initiated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the funds will be awarded through a competitive contract to an organization with expertise in working with both small and large employers across the country to develop and expand such programs.  Organizations interested in submitting an application can find more information at www.fbo.gov.  The application deadline is August 8, 2011.

According to the HHS press release, the nationwide effort will focus on establishing work environments that promote physical activity and proper nutrition and discourage tobacco use.  Such strategies include establishing tobacco-free campus policies, promoting flextime for workers to provide time for physical activity, and offering more healthy food choices in worksite cafeterias and vending machines.  The initiative is also designed to assist participating companies with educating their employees about good health practices. 

The Affordable Care Act’s support for wellness programs goes far beyond the financial commitment from HHS of $10 million.  Among other initiatives, ACA instituted a $200 million grant program for businesses with fewer than 100 employees to implement new wellness programs.  The program will run from 2011 through 2015.  The Act also provides that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will provide employers with technical assistance to help employers evaluate and launch wellness programs.  

Further, for plan years beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act will effectively codify the current HIPAA regulations excepting certain compliant wellness programs from HIPAA’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of a health factor.  The law will also increase the maximum wellness incentive that a plan may apply towards compliance, from the current 20% of the applicable cost of coverage to 30%, and authorizes regulations to permit wellness incentives up to 50%.

While workplace wellness programs have been around for a long time (pdf), their popularity has grown significantly in recent years.  Employers who may never have envisioned having the desire or resources to commit to instituting a wellness program ten years ago may now be in a position to reevaluate the need and/or support for such programs.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.