by Alissa C. Atkins, Esq.

Employer wellness programs continue to gain popularity, not only for driving down the cost of group health insurance premiums but also because they can have a positive impact from a workers’ compensation standpoint. Employers with programs that address employees’ diabetes or high blood pressure can see a potential return on the cost of such efforts in less expensive workers’ compensation claims. Workers with significant or systemic pre-existing conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure problems tend to report more severe and more frequent injuries. Programs which help prevent these conditions therefore lead to fewer loss-time claims.

Because Wellness Programs sometimes offer health risk assessments, many employers have expressed concerns about violating either the ADA or HIPAA in compiling the information. Therefore, the United States Equal Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued a proposed rule recommending that employers secure only aggregate information. If an employee health program seeks information about employee health or medical examinations, the program must be “reasonably likely to promote health or prevent disease.” The program should be voluntary and companies cannot offer incentives of more than 30% of the cost of health insurance.

Overall health can be important to driving down workers’ compensation costs because healthy employees are less likely to be injured in the first place, and their injuries are less likely to be severe or complicated by other factors. For example, an employee with pre-existing heart problems may not be unable to undergo surgery to repair a relatively minor injury. Catching these conditions before they become part of a workers’ compensation claim can ultimately save employers significant money.