Stop This

AARP Sues to Stop Wellness Penalties

AARP is asking a federal court to strike down rules from the EEOC that smooth the way for wellness penalties. Those penalties can add up to thousands of dollars a year if an employee does not hand over confidential medical information to an employer’s wellness program. The next step in many of these programs is setting goals for things like cholesterol, blood sugar, and weight. Miss a goal and you pay another penalty.

William Alvarado Rivera, Senior VP for Litigation at  the AARP Foundation, says:

Contrary to statutory law, the rules effectively enable employers to make employees offers they can’t refuse. These rules are likely to have an immediate, negative impact on workers who will have to face a lose-lose choice between sacrificing their civil rights and suffering financial hardship.

AARP Foundation attorney Dara Smith was more blunt:

These coercive programs invade workers’ privacy and leave workers vulnerable to employment discrimination based on disability or genetic information.

James Gelfand of the ERISA Industry Committee, a trade group for employers focused on these issues, says employers are not discriminating. “There’s no evidence of these things happening.”

At the bottom of this conflict is a deeply flawed “wellness” industry. Writing in Slate, L.V. Anderson recently summed up the problem:

 Workplace wellness programs are a sham. They’re a waste of time and money, they don’t improve health outcomes, and they’re a front for shifting costs onto employees.

Al Lewis, a vocal advocate for population health and critic of the “wellness” industry, notes that the real problem lies with the legislation that opened the door for coercive, cost-shifting schemes. He says:

Ultimately they are only picking at a scab. The law needs changing even more than these regulations.

Our take is that wellness programs with big penalties are going nowhere. In research we will present at ObesityWeek, we see little evidence for widespread adoption of these schemes. Smart employers are figuring out that they erode goodwill and do nothing for health outcomes.

Wellness penalties are an unfortunate safe harbor for shifting health costs to people already burdened by chronic disease. A dark side of human nature readily believes that people deserve the illnesses they suffer.

Click here for more from the New York Times and here for more from the Wall Street Journal.

Stop This, photograph © Sergey Glazgo / flickr

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October 26, 2016

One Response to “AARP Sues to Stop Wellness Penalties”

  1. October 26, 2016 at 8:03 am, Al Lewis said:

    Great post. I would disagree that these programs are going away on their own for the reasons you gave (eroding goodwill and doing nothing for health outcomes). There is a countervailing factor in play, which is blatant dishonesty. The leaders of the wellness industry are willing to lie, cheat, and even harm employees in order to make money. See this posting. If these statements were not accurate, these scoundrels could sue me.

    But right now the only person threatening a lawsuit is me against them. Unfortunately my lawyer says my making fun of their stupidity undermines my case because it’s tough to show damages when I play this as pure comedy.