Businesses share ObamaCare wellness program worries with White House

"A healthier worker always consumes less healthcare services," Samuel Marchio, senior director of federal affairs with the insurance giant WellPoint, told The Hill.

"If you're looking at ways to bend the cost curve, whether it's in public or private programs, raising the bar in wellness is a value-add."

Marchio and two other WellPoint executives spoke with White House officials about the proposal a week after it arrived at the Office of Management and Budget for a final 90-day review on April 24. 

That same day, administration officials also consulted with representatives from two organizations that represent large companies and groups' health plans and the Business Roundtable, of which WellPoint is a member. 

There are two different types of wellness programs: those that require a worker to reach a specific health standard before receiving a reward and those that just require participation.

First proposed in November, the new rule would increase the amount that employees can be rewarded for achieving a specific goal, such as a particular body mass index or quitting smoking. 

The business groups submitted written comments supporting the proposal, but worried that some aspects could be overly burdensome on companies.

In a letter on behalf of the National Business Group on Health, President Helen Darling expressed concern that "certain provision of the proposed regulations will impede innovation and increase administrative and cost burdens for wellness programs, with little to no benefit to participants." 

The WellPoint executives also shared details on the company's own lauded wellness program.

"This is one of those unique situations where we get to do some advocacy on behalf of the company as an employer and not just as a health plan," Marchio said.

Under WellPoint's program, employees' rate of obesity has dropped by 8 percent and their rate of high blood pressure went down by 42 percent.

House Democrats expressed concern to the Health and Human Services Department that the new rules could unfairly discriminate against people based on their health status in January.