Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

Providing wellness program incentives to everyone

Business, Legislation

The state Senate Health Committee that I serve on conducted a public hearing Wednesday, February 24, 2010 about legislation that would exempt wellness programs from unfair trade or marketing practices. Under current Wisconsin law, fully insured and individual health insurance plans are prohibited from providing benefits that are not spelled out in the policy. Therefore, they are prohibited from advertising, marketing, offering or operating a wellness program without violating an unfair trade or marketing practice. Senate Bill 502 that I have co-sponsored would allow health care providers to offer wellness program incentives to all clients without violating unfair trade or marketing practices.

The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau in its analysis of SB 502 writes, “A wellness program is designed to promote health or prevent disease by offering a reward to insured individuals.” Wellness programs include smoking cessation weight loss, stress management, and nutrition improvement.

Meg Christianson, a nurse coach for Humana that provides coverage to more than 400,000 Wisconsinites gave excellent testimony about SB 502.  Meg Christianson told the Senate Health Committee Wisconsin must provide wellness program incentives to everyone and ensure reasonable alternatives for persons with medical conditions that make it medically unadvisable for them to participate or satisfy the program standard.

She reminded committee members current federal nondiscrimination rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) provide protections to ensure wellness programs do not unfairly discriminate on the basis of health factors. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that wellness program information is treated confidentially, separate from employer personnel files and only accessible to wellness program personnel.

More and more employees are spending time at work, Meg Christianson testified, making the workplace an ideal spot to engage people in wellness programs. Workers that participate in employer-based wellness programs have better on the job decision-making and time management skills and greater loyalty to their company.

Businesses that invest in workplace wellness programs can enjoy savings through lower healthcare costs, decreased absenteeism and decreased workers' compensation claims. A MetLife survey found that more than half, 57 percent, of larger employers, those with 500 or more employees, during 2008 were providing employees with a wellness program, up from 49 percent during 2006. reports, “Employee wellness programs just may be the cure for companies struggling to keep up with rapidly rising health care costs. According to the Kaiser Foundation's Employer Health Benefits 2008 Annual Survey, average premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance for family coverage increased 119 percent between 1999 and 2008. The report, which surveyed randomly selected public and private firms, also found that more employers are turning to employee wellness programs -- more than half of the small and large firms that offered employee health benefits also offered some form of a wellness program.”

I wholeheartedly support SB 502Wisconsin s
hould provide the flexibility businesses need to provide wellness programs that can lead to healthier lifestyles, longer lives, and reduced health care costs.

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