Preserving em­ployee well­ness pro­grams

Work­ers value the chance to im­prove qual­ity of life and re­duce health in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Vir­ginia Foxx Vir­ginia Foxx, a North Carolina Repub­li­can, is chair­woman of the House Com­mit­tee on Ed­u­ca­tion and the Work­force.

From the start of the new Congress and new ad­min­is­tra­tion, rein­ing in the reg­u­la­tory state has been a lead­ing pri­or­ity — and for good rea­son. In re­cent years, the Amer­i­can peo­ple have en­dured an un­prece­dented reg­u­la­tory on­slaught. De­ter­mined to ad­vance an ex­treme lib­eral agenda, un­elected bu­reau­crats of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion came up with new reg­u­la­tory schemes im­pact­ing vir­tu­ally ev­ery as­pect of Amer­i­can life.

They sure were busy. Dur­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s fi­nal year in of­fice, there were 18 new rules and reg­u­la­tions for ev­ery law Congress passed. The 2016 is­sue of the Fed­eral Reg­is­ter in­cluded 97,110 pages of new reg­u­la­tions — the high­est in the reg­is­ter’s 80-year his­tory.

Un­for­tu­nately, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­ten failed to do its due dili­gence and en­sure new rules passed a ba­sic test of com­mon sense. At times, fed­eral agen­cies even is­sued reg­u­la­tions that di­rectly con­tra­dicted oth­ers al­ready on the books.

Case in point: in­con­sis­tent rules sur­round­ing vol­un­tary em­ployee well­ness plans.

Em­ployee well­ness plans have been around for decades and have typ­i­cally re­ceived bi­par­ti­san sup­port. In fact, buried in Oba­macare’s hun­dreds of pages of man­dates and failed poli­cies is a free-mar­ket pro­vi­sion giv­ing pri­vate-sec­tor work­ers more op­por­tu­ni­ties to par­tic­i­pate in these vol­un­tary plans.

It was one of the few things Democrats got right in an other­wise bad law. Three fed­eral agen­cies then is­sued rules im­ple­ment­ing the law’s well­ness poli­cies. But then, the Equal Employment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion got in­volved and is­sued its own set of rules that con­flicted with the oth­ers.

Now, when em­ploy­ers are im­ple­ment­ing well­ness poli­cies in their work­places, they even­tu­ally reach a con­fus­ing fork in the road. It’s like com­ing to a stop sign while driv­ing and find­ing two con­tra­dic­tory signs. One sign reads, “right turn only,” while the other sign reads, “left turn only.” Al­though both turns seem per­mit­ted, no mat­ter which de­ci­sion driv­ers make, they could still be pun­ished.

That’s not fair to em­ploy­ers or work­ers. That is why I in­tro­duced the Preserving Em­ployee Well­ness Pro­grams Act to reaf­firm the well­ness poli­cies Congress en­acted in 2010 and pro­vide le­gal cer­tainty.

The word “preserving” is crit­i­cal. Vol­un­tary well­ness plans are cur­rently avail­able to tens of mil­lions of work­ers and their fam­ily mem­bers. A 2011 re­port by the Of­fice of the Sur­geon Gen­eral high­lights that ev­ery dol­lar spent on a workplace well­ness plan can re­sult in $3.27 in lower med­i­cal costs.

Many have seized the op­por­tu­nity to im­prove their qual­ity of life and re­duce their health in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums. Many oth­ers have not. Each in­di­vid­ual should be free to choose what is best for his or her fam­ily. Noth­ing un­der the leg­is­la­tion un­der­mines this fun­da­men­tal right.

Still, var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions are spread­ing fear and mis­in­for­ma­tion about the bill be­cause they op­pose well­ness plans al­to­gether. They were silent while this is­sue was ad­dressed un­der Mr. Obama’s watch, yet now they seem op­posed to work­ers hav­ing this op­tion.

Per­haps the most bla­tant false­hood is that the bill will force em­ploy­ees to turn over ge­netic in­for­ma­tion to their em­ploy­ers. Some have called this a “ge­netic test­ing” bill, though the words are nowhere in the leg­is­la­tion.

It may be sur­pris­ing to learn that the fed­eral law pro­tect­ing ge­netic in­for­ma­tion — the Ge­netic In­for­ma­tion Nondis­crim­i­na­tion Act (GINA) — has al­ways al­lowed re­quests for this in­for­ma­tion as part of vol­un­tary well­ness plans. When Repub­li­cans and Democrats passed the law in 2008, we trusted work­ers to de­cide what’s best for their fam­i­lies.

Ge­netic in­for­ma­tion is ex­tremely sen­si­tive, and no one should be forced or co­erced into dis­clos­ing this in­for­ma­tion. I sup­ported GINA then and now be­cause it pro­vides strong pro­tec­tions against employment dis­crim­i­na­tion and im­poses ro­bust con­fi­den­tial­ity re­quire­ments on the use of ge­netic in­for­ma­tion. These poli­cies will con­tinue to pro­tect work­ers un­der the bill I pro­pose.

If con­cerned cit­i­zens have ideas for im­prov­ing these pro­tec­tions, please know that I am lis­ten­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, the loud­est voices today are the so-called ex­perts and spe­cial in­ter­ests who al­ways want to con­trol de­ci­sions that are best left to in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies. They could care less about the con­flict­ing reg­u­la­tions this bill seeks to ad­dress be­cause they don’t like well­ness plans and want to deny ac­cess to them.

But at the end of the day, this bill was never about the mer­its of em­ployee well­ness plans. That de­bate al­ready passed when Democrats en­cour­aged em­ploy­ers to ex­pand the use of these plans in the so-called Af­ford­able Care Act.

With mil­lions of Amer­i­cans al­ready en­rolled in a vol­un­tary well­ness plan, it’s im­por­tant that em­ploy­ers have clear and con­sis­tent rules to fol­low. Pass­ing leg­is­la­tion to cor­rect the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s reg­u­la­tory in­com­pe­tency is a com­mon-sense step.

Now, when em­ploy­ers are im­ple­ment­ing well­ness poli­cies in their work­places, they even­tu­ally reach a con­fus­ing fork in the road.

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