The Department of Labor has issued new guidelines concerning the wellness provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that relate to the use of financial incentives, and the Office of Health Plan Standards and Compliance Assistance is seeking public comment. This document proposes “amendments to regulations, consistent with the Affordable Care Act, regarding nondiscriminatory wellness programs in group health coverage." These regulations increase rewards for wellness participation or outcomes from 20 to 30% or up to 50% related to reducing tobacco use.
This post is not about coronary artery disease. Nor is it about the “stiff” ventricles in diastolic heart failure.
Like “Never Rest”, which I posted several weeks ago, this brief discussion was inspired by Saturday morning Torah study. “Harden Heart” refers to the Pharaoh at the time of Moses and the Exodus from Egyptian slavery. What struck me from our discussion on Saturday morning that relates to health plans and health benefits is that those of us who have responsibility/authority over what is reimbursed, or not, how it is reimbursed, and at what level are — metaphorically — in a parallel role to the Higher Power in the Torah passage. Those whom the purchasers and payers are influencing, or who are on the receiving end of attempts at influence by the purchaser or payer are, metaphorically, in the position of Pharaoh (No implication or suggestion intended about virtue or lack thereof on either side of this analogy!). They are employees, plan members, health care professionals and facilities, ancillary providers, and any other entities that are being paid for services.
In the story, it takes many sticks (no carrots) to ultimately influence Pharaoh to free the Jews. The question that we discussed and debated is to what degree God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and to what degree did Pharaoh, using free will, refuse to set the slaves free even in the face of punitive actions — the plagues.
The Affordable Care Act codified the worksite wellness exemption to the federal medical underwriting provisions in the group health plan market. This means companies are allowed to use an “outcomes-based” incentive model that provides financial rewards for those who satisfy a prescribed health standard such as a BMI of less than 30 or who meet a “reasonable alternative standard” or obtain a waiver from their physician. What some see as “rewards” others view as penalties or surcharges and, given the absence of evidence to confirm the role of such incentives in actually improving population health, the new provisions have unleashed a debate about the ethics and putative effectiveness of the new provisions.