The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rattled the business community late last year when it filed suit against Fortune 100 conglomerate Honeywell International for including too much “stick” in its corporate wellness program. Honeywell’s program included penalties for employees who refused to participate in a biometric testing regimen, raising the cost of their company-subsidized medical coverage.
A U.S. District Court judge denied the EEOC’s attempt to block the effort, but many companies are still worried they’ll be slapped with a federal suit of their own as the EEOC seeks to clarify its position and the federal government moves forward to adopt new regulations governing the practice.
To figure out how businesses with wellness programs are responding, The Post sat down with Bryce Williams, president and chief executive of Healthmine, to talk about the company’s new opening in its Washington office for a senior director of wellness compliance. Healthmine is a Dallas-based company that manages wellness programs on behalf of employers, acting as a third party between a company and its employees.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Why are you investing in a compliance officer? Why now?
The reason we’re opening this position is we’re trying to crack the code on “how can we make wellness perform as well as the rest of your health plan.” The Affordable Care Act is heavily incenting wellness spending, heavily protecting it, but there are almost no high-performing wellness plans out there.
We know that coming soon is a whole new set of wellness regulations that define what employers can and can’t do. We need to get ahead of that and have someone in place to help us shape our strategy around the new regulations.
We think this is a really, really important position that is literally at the crossroads of where the ACA has brought us over the last three or four years — and the next three or four years of where it’s going.
Apart from the obvious need to avoid a lawsuit, why do employers care about wellness programs? Why all the emphasis on cash incentives?
From employers’ perspective, they’re spending probably well over a trillion dollars a year now for employer-sponsored plans. But because they’re paying for a lot of Americans’ health care, they want to have a say in how those dollars are being used, whether they’re being used effectively. So there’s a healthy tension between the government wanting to create a rational set of rules, a rational marketplace, and companies wanting to make sure that they can incentivize employees to take certain actions that they know will improve their health and therefore help the company control costs.
So is this a new position? What kind of person are you looking for?
We don’t have anything like this right now. We want one person to manage [our compliance system], and it’s probably someone who has federal experience. Someone who has come out of an agency or has experience on Capitol Hill and has experience working with employer lobbyists on their insurance.
Our compliance officer will need to understand how all this works, and there’s a fairly steep learning curve, so that’s why it’s a senior position. Hopefully we magically get the right person here who has the right combination of government and private sector experience.