ObamaCare Incentive Program 'Misstep' to Shift Healthcare Costs to Poor & Minorities While Financially Penalizing Overweight Employees En Masse

Health Incentive Industry Authority HealthyWage Cites Affordable Care Act Provision Expanding Employers' Ability to Penalize Employees for Being Overweight, Which Goes Into Effect January 1, 2014, as 'Lip-Service' to Wellness Incentives and Underscores Why the Measure Is "Ill-Conceived, Discriminatory Cost-Shifting" and "Doomed to Be Overwhelmingly Ineffective"

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - Dec 4, 2013) - HealthyWage (www.HealthyWage.com), the industry-leading purveyor of financial incentive-based weight loss programs for individuals and businesses -- a company that has successfully designed and administered hundreds of research-based corporate wellness incentive programs for hundreds of Fortune 500 and other companies, hospitals, health systems, insurers, school systems, major municipal governments and other organizations throughout the U.S., over the past five years -- today sounded the proverbial alarm that starting January 1, 2014, ObamaCare will dramatically expand the ability of companies to penalize employees for lifestyle issues, including being overweight or smoking, in the name of "wellness incentives." Overweight and obese employees may now face staggering financial penalties of up to 30% of the cost of their health plan, and up to 50% of the cost of their health plan if they smoke.

"Wellness incentives are powerful behavior-change tools," notes David Roddenberry, co-founder of HealthyWage. "Trouble is, none of the penalty programs that companies are planning to administer under ObamaCare's expanded penalization allowance bear any resemblance to the wellness incentives that academic, clinical and industry research have shown to be powerful tools that promote behavior change. In fact, there is no published academic research to show that the government's penalization programs lead to weight loss, but there is ample evidence that these programs are inequitable cost-shifting tools, disproportionately burdening those least able to afford health care."

This impending ObamaCare program is not voluntary -- all employees can now be forced to lose weight or be penalized. A typical program supported by ObamaCare either penalizes employees around $100/month if they are obese or rewards employees who are normal weight $100/month.

"Proponents of this program believe that there is currently an insufficient incentive for employees to get and remain healthy," Roddenberry says. "Unfortunately, this short-sighted approach assumes that employees are overweight by choice and that a $1,200/year incentive is enough to change their thinking. Alternatively, supporters argue that people who are overweight should pay more because they are higher cost risk to insure. Proponents liken this penalty for being overweight to an auto insurance penalty for a driver who has previously been in an auto accident or received multiple speeding tickets. However, penalizing employees for their health status violates one of the major purposes of health reform -- preserving and expanding access to affordable, adequate, high quality insurance coverage for all Americans."

HealthyWage underscores that Research funded by ObamaCare has failed to demonstrate that such typical programs improve health. The recent RAND report mandated by the Affordable Care Act reviewed all of the literature on wellness incentive programs and concluded that any change in health due to these types of wellness incentives "is small and unlikely to be clinically meaningful."

"ObamaCare incentives are discriminatory and regressive as obesity rates are highest among minorities and lower paid employees," urges Roddenberry. "Obesity rates are highest among non-Hispanic blacks (49.5%), compared with Mexican Americans (40.4%), all Hispanics (39.1%) and whites (34.3%). Higher income women are less likely to be obese than lower income women. Our direct experience shows that joining and succeeding in a weight loss incentive program depends on ample communication, but that mission-critical frequent communication is more difficult with employees at the lower end of the economic scale. Field employees and employees without a company email address, are the least likely to sign-up for, and benefit from, these incentive programs. The employees who are in most need of weight loss help, often do not hear or know about the advent of the program. They are unfairly penalized by them."

Alternatively, an effective wellness incentive program is one that's voluntary and grounded in the best practices literature around behavior change. For its part, HealthyWage has offered wellness incentive programs with more than 500 corporate clients, including 50 of the Fortune 500, including Office Depot, Huntsman, and Sonic Automotive, and its program has been more informally run at more than 3,000 companies and organizations. . HealthyWage's market-proven programs are completely voluntary and provide carefully-structured systems of rewards based on discrete behavior-change goals and timeframes. HealthyWage's wellness incentives are often implemented to help people avoid procrastination, by providing participants with a specific start time, end time and goal, and proffering professional and peer-based support and motivation along the way.

"As part of the continued discussion around ObamaCare, we should re-think how wellness incentives are offered," Roddenberry concludes. "Incentives -- when thoughtfully designed and administered -- can be more than triple the effectiveness of weight loss programs and properly harnessing the power of this approach is paramount."

About HealthyWage™
Health and wellness purveyor HealthyWage (www.HealthyWage.com) provides cash incentives, social and expert-based support, tools and resources, and goal-setting and tracking technologies to address our nation's obesity epidemic and improve America's collective health. The company was founded in response to academic research that proves even small cash rewards triple the effectiveness of weight-loss programs; that people are more effective at losing weight when their own money is at risk; and that social networks play a large role in the spread of obesity, and will likely play a large role in reversing obesity.

Note to Editors: Individual and corporate participants and/or a HealthyWage company executive available for interview.

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Merilee Kern
Kern Communications