On April 20, 2015 the EEOC released proposed amendments to regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) related to employer wellness programs. The proposed rule provides guidance on the extent to which employers may use incentives to encourage employees to participate in wellness programs that are part of their group health plans, and that include disability-related inquiries and/or medical examinations. The proposed rules explain how a wellness program that includes incentives for participation can satisfy the “voluntary medical examination” exception to the ADA’s prohibition on “making disability-related inquiries or requiring medical examinations”. The exception allows “voluntary medical examinations, including voluntary medical histories, which are part of an employee health program available to employees at that work site.”
This is the latest action in an ongoing turf battle between the EEOC (which administers the ADA) and the Departments of Labor, Treasury, and HHS (which administer the HIPAA nondiscrimination rules). HHS has taken a liberal approach, allowing wellness programs to impose a 30% penalty for failure to participate in wellness programs (and up to 50% in the case of tobacco prevention or reduction programs), in accordance with the Affordable Care Act’s policy of encouraging wellness programs. The EEOC has traditionally taken a more conservative view, holding such a large incentive would violate the ADA because it would render the program not voluntary.
The proposed rules permit incentives as high as 30% to encourage participation in a wellness program that includes disability-related inquiries or medical examinations, as long as participation is voluntary. Voluntary means that the employer:
(1) does not require employees to participate;
(2) does not deny coverage under any of its group health plans or particular benefits packages within a group health plan for non-participation or limit the extent of such coverage (except pursuant to allowed incentives); and
(3) does not take any adverse employment action or retaliate against, interfere with, coerce, intimidate, or threaten employees who do not participate.
In addition, an employer must provide a notice that clearly explains what medical information will be obtained, who will receive the medical information, how the medical information will be used, the restrictions on its disclosure, and the methods the covered entity will employ to prevent improper disclosure of the medical information. Finally, the proposed rule allows the disclosure of medical information obtained by wellness programs to employers only in aggregate form, except as needed to administer the health plan.