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The New Health Care Law and Wellness Programs

Your questions answered

Q. If we use wellness programs to stay healthy—and reduce the costs for our health insurer—can we get a discount on our insurance costs?

A. For those who still need more encouragement to stay healthy, the law allows companies to reward employees who participate in a wellness program and meet certain goals, like losing weight or giving up smoking. Starting in 2014, they can earn as much as a 50 percent discount on the cost of their premiums or copayments—or receive extra benefits.

Almost 60 percent of companies that offer health care coverage also provide weight loss programs, gym membership discounts, smoking cessation programs, nutrition classes or personal health coaching, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust. Ten percent of those companies give employees who participate a financial reward.

Some critics were worried that a system of rewarding the healthy would punish those who can’t take an exercise class or participate in other health programs. The law says that employers must set up alternative programs and rewards for those workers who cannot participate if doing so would threaten their health. What that means will be also spelled out in regulations.

Susan Jaffe of Washington, D.C., covers health and aging issues and writes the Bulletin’s weekly column, Health Care Reform Explained: Your Questions Answered.

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