Government mandates are often created with the best of intentions, but sometimes they create impossible conflicts. For example, the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as “Obamacare”) encourages employers to set up wellness programs to encourage healthier lifestyles, with the hope that this in turn will reduce costs for medical treatment. On the other hand, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) puts limits on how an individual’s health information can be shared. And then there’s the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that seeks to prevent discrimination against workers due to disabilities including physical impairments.
This leads to a paradoxical situation where employees who choose not to share health data are then prevented from receiving financial incentives for wellness programs. Since a financial incentive is offered, the ADA says that the programs are no longer voluntary, but become a condition for pay.
Last month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) intended to clarify such situations. The new rules would provide guidelines for employers who want to set up wellness programs that are still in compliance with the ADA requirements. One aspect of the rules calls for the provision of “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities so that they can participate in wellness programs and be eligible for the financial incentives. As the EEOC’s press release indicates, this proposal may provide “much needed guidance” for both employers and employees. Many of the wellness programs created by employers will likely rely at least in part on data produced by wearable Health Tech devices.
The comment period for the proposed rules is open through June 19, 2015.