Preserving Employee Wellness Programs
By Rep. Virginia Foxx, Washington Times
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.
Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, is chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.