Worker Health and Wellness Legislation Worker health and wellness

Lawmakers debate ‘Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act’

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Photo: FangXiaNuo/iStockphoto

Washington – A proposal to clarify regulations for employee wellness programs is stirring controversy between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, introduced the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (H.R. 1313) on March 2. If passed, the bill would exempt workplace wellness programs from:

  • Limitations under the Americans with Disabilities Act on medical examinations and inquiries of employees
  • The prohibition on collecting genetic information in connection with issuing health insurance
  • Limitations under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act on collecting the genetic information of employees or family members of employees – this exemption applies to workplace wellness programs that adhere to limits on rewards for participation in the program

Discrimination based on genetic information is and will remain illegal under federal law, Foxx said in a press release. Workplace wellness programs would remain 100 percent voluntary under the proposal. Regulatory clarity is needed so employers will not have to confront contradictory information from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Affordable Care Act, Foxx said.

The proposal drew sharp criticism from Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Scott issued a press release saying that the plan would transfer costs to workers, weaken anti-discrimination and privacy protections, and undercut effective enforcement of civil rights laws.

“If the end goal of wellness programs is to promote health and well-being, we must ensure that all workers – including those who do not want to disclose sensitive and private health information – can access them,” Scott said in the release.

The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it remained at press time.

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