April 11, 2013

Wellness and the EEOC - No Clear Answers Yet

Wellness programs continue to be a centerpiece of the health care costs control strategy.  Critical to the design of a wellness program is that it complies with many laws including, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  A fair amount of guidance has been issued with regard to complying with HIPAA and the ACA, but little guidance has come out from the EEOC relating to compliance with the ADA.

The EEOC has issued several informal opinions. Most recently, it issued an informal discussion letter which affirmed the EEOC’s informal position that reasonable accommodations must be made to ensure that an individual protected by the ADA can comply with the wellness program.  The letter addresses that a diabetes management program pursuant to which an individual who achieves certain diabetes related standards would received a wellness reward.  The letter makes it clear that if an individual’s disability makes it impossible to achieve the goal, an alternative must be made available.

The letter does not, however, address one of the burning questions and that is what constitutes a voluntary program.  As we have mentioned in several previous Benefit Beat articles (see JCEB/EEOC Talk – Much Remains Unclear (10/11/12); Keep Wellness in Health Plans, says 11th Circuit (9/6/12); Update: Wellness Program – ADA Class Action Case (5/12/11); and Financial Incentives for Wellness Program Participation: Employers Beware (4/5/11)), it would be most helpful to have guidance on the definition of “voluntary” for purposes of ADA compliance, particularly as it relates to wellness programs.


The information contained in this Benefit Beat is not intended to be legal, accounting, or other professional advice, nor are these comments directed to specific situations.

As required by U.S. Treasury rules, we inform you that, unless expressly stated otherwise, any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this Benefit Beat is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by any person for the purpose of avoiding any penalties that may be imposed by the Internal Revenue Service.


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