HHS finalizes wellness rules under healthcare law

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The rules allow employer health plans to offer rewards to workers who meet certain fitness goals — some as broad as joining a gym, others pegged to specific outcomes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking.

Congressional Democrats had worried that the outcome-based programs could give insurers a backdoor to discriminate against unhealthy people — which is outlawed by the healthcare law.

And businesses were afraid the regulations would be too burdensome, requiring them to provide tests to determine whether employees have met the benchmarks set out in their wellness programs and provide alternatives to people who can't participate in a particular activity.

HHS said in the final regulations Wednesday that it had "clarified" some "confusion" about how the new incentives would interact with previous laws on healthcare privacy.

The department, though, did not roll back the size of the incentive employees can receive for meeting wellness goals, as Democrats had wanted.

The regulations provide flexibility for employers and insurance companies to figure out the details of each wellness program, the department said.

"Today’s final rules ensure flexibility for employers by increasing the maximum reward that may be offered under appropriately designed wellness programs, including outcome-based programs," HHS said in a statement. 

"The final rules also protect consumers by requiring that health-contingent wellness programs be reasonably designed, be uniformly available to all similarly situated individuals, and accommodate recommendations made at any time by an individual’s physician based on medical appropriateness."