Senators Introduce Resolutions to Block Wellness Program Rules

The senators say the rules issued by the EEOC contradict existing rules in the ACA.

Members of the Senate’s Health and Labor committee introduced two resolutions to block the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from moving forward with its final wellness program rules

“Wellness programs are the only part of Obamacare that everyone agreed on—everyone except the EEOC,” Senate Health and Labor committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) said in an announcement. “Congress was clear in its support of workplace wellness programs in the health care law, which gave the administration the authority to allow employers to offer a 50% discount on health insurance premiums. But the EEOC is taking away that authority and overruling the actions of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury, which have been clear in their regulations implementing the law.”

A provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) allowed employers to discount health insurance premiums by up to 30%—or 50% if approved by the Departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services—for healthy lifestyle choices like quitting smoking or maintaining a healthy cholesterol level that help lead to reduced health care costs over time.

Last year, after the EEOC introduced proposed rules for wellness programs, the HR Policy Association questioned the EEOC’s authority to change current rules. In a comment letter to the EEOC, the Association noted that prior rules allowed for an incentive of up to 50% of the cost of employee-only coverage for employees who successfully complete smoking cessation programs, but the proposed rules only allow for an incentive up to that amount if the employer simply asks the employee if he stops smoking, not if a blood test for nicotine is required. The Association said the proposed rule significantly limits incentives for smoking cessation programs which the ACA and its implementing regulations clearly intended to expand. 

In addition, in response to lawsuits filed by the EEOC regarding employer wellness programs, senators introduced The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act to reaffirm existing law, which allows for employee wellness programs tied to a financial reward.

The resolutions now introduced were issued under the Congressional Review Act. Under the Congressional Review Act, the Senate and House vote on a joint resolution of disapproval to stop, with the full force of law, a federal agency from implementing a rule or regulation or issuing a substantially similar regulation without congressional authorization. A resolution of disapproval only needs a simple majority to pass and cannot be filibustered or amended.