March 23, 2017

Wellness Incentives

Let’s face it…incentives are about getting people to do things they would not otherwise do! Like it or not, people frequently do not do what will help them stay healthy and live longer. Changing this situation is what wellness is fundamentally about. With a multitude of factors affecting our behavioral choices, health behavior is extremely difficult to change.

Why use incentives?

We often get asked this question from employers…Why should I use incentives in my wellness program? We believe there are many reasons, but a portion of the response is related directly to the fundamental nature of “wellness”. Wellness is defined as “An organized set of activities designed to help individuals and their family members make and/or maintain voluntary behavior change(s) that help reduce their health risks and/or enhance their ability to function.”

The focus on “voluntary” behavior change at the center of this definition of wellness emphasizes our need to continually examine the factors that influence behavior change. “Voluntary” by its very nature means at the volition or choice of the individual. It is not automatic, but must continually be selected by an act of will on a moment-by-moment basis. Carefully designed incentives help to influence this longitudinal expression of will leading to behavior change.

On May 17, 2016, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) issued a final rule that describes how employer-provided wellness programs can comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The final rules, which went into effect January 2017, applies to all workplace wellness programs, including those in which employees or their family members may participate without also enrolling in a particular health plan. The rule embraced the HIPAA/ACA approach to incentives, limiting incentives for wellness programs including disability-related inquiries or medical examinations to 30 percent of the total cost of employee-only coverage. The ruling allowed incentives to rise to 50 percent of the total cost of employee-only coverage for programs not asking disability-related questions targeting tobacco use. However, where an employer requires any biometric screening or other medical procedure that tests for the presence of nicotine or tobacco, the rule’s 30 percent incentive limit applies. Outcome based programs that require an individual to attain or maintain a specific health outcome (such as not smoking or attaining certain results on biometric screening) in order to obtain a reward must offer a reasonable alternative to earn the incentive. Learn more by going to:


Terri Vetor

Wellness & Consumer Products Coordinator

Unified Group Services, Inc.