Health Reform Legislation Will Impact Preventive And Wellness Programs

Reuters reports: "Efforts to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system and expand coverage to millions of uninsured could lead some wellness programs to expand and others to constrict, experts say.... In all of the bills in Congress, insurers would be required to cover some preventive services, and all of the bills include prevention and wellness incentives. That could alter what care and coverage are included in wellness programs, such as nutritional counseling or similar programs. ... One incentive under consideration would give tax credits to companies for wellness programs, said Maya Rockeymoore, head of Washington, D.C.-based Global Policy Solutions consultants."

"Also, a Senate proposal would set aside funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to serve as a resource for companies to help them establish and standardize wellness program practices, she said." (Wulfhorst, 7/7).

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports: "As Congress ramps up the debate over health reform, efforts to prevent and manage chronic conditions like diabetes are a major focus. Such illnesses affect more than 130 million Americans and account for about three-quarters of total health spending. Already, well over half of big companies have launched initiatives to improve employee health."

The Journal reports that, after trying several voluntary programs, AmeriGas Propane Inc. gave their employees an ultimatum last year: "The nationwide propane distributor took the unusual step after facing years of steep increases in the cost of health coverage for its roughly 6,000 workers. ... Then, beginning last year, the company mandated that all employees would have to get physical exams, blood-pressure checks and cholesterol and blood-sugar tests. Women also were required to get Pap smears, and mammograms for those 40 and older. Workers and their covered spouses would have a year to complete the tests, which are covered 100%, or lose their insurance. And they'd need to keep getting the checkups at least every two years in order to retain the health benefits."

The Journal reports that union officials say they object to the idea of mandated health tests. The Journal also notes: "Despite their popularity, many preventive health programs fail to deliver savings. Those focused solely on detecting disease are often costly to their sponsors. However, corporate wellness programs that resulted in participants making changes such as losing weight or quitting smoking have saved money" (Matthews, 7/8).

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