Groups Call Senate Health Bill Wellness Incentives Unfair

by Martin Vaughn
Dow Jones Newswires
via Fox Business News
Thursday, January 7, 2010

Health advocacy groups denounced a provision in Senate healthcare overhaul legislation that would let employers offer bigger premium discounts to workers who meet certain health targets like not smoking and low cholesterol.

That approach has been championed by Safeway Stores Inc. (SWY) CEO Steve Burd, but current law only allows firms to discount premiums to healthy employees up to 20%. The Senate legislation increases that percentage to 30%, and allows cabinet officials to raise it as high as 50%.

The American Heart Association and the lobbying group Healthcare for America Now!, which broadly supports the Democratic healthcare bills pending in Congress, charged that the Senate provision will encourage firms to jack up premiums on workers with health problems.

“This means that individuals can be penalized for their genetic make-up or other factors they cannot readily control,” said Sue Nelson, a vice president at the American Heart Association.

For example, she said, high cholesterol and obesity are conditions influenced by genetics. Employers might use either of those factors as a basis for providing discounts.

A 30% discount could mean a $1,410 annual savings on health premiums, based on the average cost of employer-provided coverage, said Harald Schmidt, who criticized employer wellness incentive programs in a December article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The article continues at Fox Business News.

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