Departments - September/October 2010

The Insider

Incentive to Be Healthy
Campaign Calls on Congress to Encourage Wellness Measures

By Deborah L. Vence

Sometimes people need a little motivation to kick-start a healthier lifestyle.

That's what the Incentive Legislation Campaign (ILC) is hoping to do, and has asked Congress to help back a proposal to include wellness incentives as part of a national effort to encourage employees to take steps toward improving their physical well-being.

On Aug. 4, ILC members met at Capitol Hill with Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, advisers to Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, majority and minority Ways and Means Committee staff members, and the Senate Majority Finance Committee's Senior Benefits and Health advisers to promote the incentive industry and the effort that's being made to encourage a healthier workforce in America.

George B. Delta, executive director of the Incentive Federation Inc., a Vienna, Va.-based organization that supports national health care reform and measures that lead to a healthier workforce, who helped organize the meetings with Congress, explained that several bills currently being considered by Congress could provide a good way to leverage the use of incentives as a means to reduce health care costs and improve the physical well-being of American workers.

"The main bill that we are interested in currently is S.803, the Healthy Workforce Act of 2009, and our proposal to add qualified wellness awards to it," Delta said.

The Healthy Workforce Act of 2009 (S.803), which is sponsored by Sen. Harkin, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, would amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow employers a 50 percent tax credit for the costs of providing employees with a qualified wellness program up to $200 for the first 200 employees and $100 for each employee thereafter.

The Act, Delta said, defines a "qualified wellness program" as a program that is certified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services and that has a health awareness and education component, a behavioral change component or a supportive environment component.

"To be certified as a 'qualified wellness program,' the program must be consistent with evidence-based research and best practices, as identified by persons with expertise in employer health promotion and wellness programs," he explained.

"Our proposal would be to supplement S.803 by adding a tax incentive for employers and employees who participate in wellness programs: namely, a qualified (not cash or cash equivalent) wellness award of up to $400 for an eligible employee who participates in a qualified wellness program that would be nontaxable to the employee and deductible by the employer," Delta said.