In the last five years, our country has made great strides in expanding healthcare coverage, building a healthier, stronger and more successful nation. However, in 2013, chronic diseases including heart disease, respiratory diseases and diabetes killed more than 835,000 Americans and impacted the lives of millions more. While these numbers may seem overwhelming, Americans of all stripes are partnering with their employers to fight chronic diseases, improve health outcomes, and build a more resilient country.

Employee wellness programs—partnerships between Americans and their employers—provides incentives, information and supportive communities to help employees and their families become healthier, limiting the impact of chronic disease and saving lives. These programs utilize tools such as increased access to information, financial incentives and opportunities for collaboration to help employees limit risk factors for disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and smoking. Employee wellness programs also encourage participants to "know their numbers," creating more informed healthcare consumers who are more likely to implement lifestyle changes and undertake early-stage medical intervention—preventing chronic illness before it can become a life-threatening challenge.


Unfortunately, these benefits, available to tens of millions of Americans, are under assault by the very government agency charged with ensuring equal access to the jobs that provide them. In a misguided and ill-informed effort to ensure equal access, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has proposed regulations that would undermine the future of employee wellness programs, threatening much of the progress already made and increasing long-term costs for Americans, their employers and the healthcare system as a whole.

That said, the EEOC does have an essential role to play in guaranteeing freedom of access for these important programs. As such, I encourage the EEOC to ensure companies offer robust employee wellness programs aimed at helping employees take control of their healthcare choices. These efforts from the EEOC should neither target nor limit the majority of companies that offer wellness programs in compliance with guidelines included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Rather, they can play an important role in rooting out those few employers who are bending the rules, by either not offering a reasonable alternative for those who wish to participate but are unable to due to a medical condition, or by using personal health information to make employees pay more for their healthcare costs.

Employee wellness programs are an essential part of the broader effort to help build a healthier and more productive America. By providing Americans with the tools to take charge of their own health, we are not only saving money, we are saving lives through prevention of chronic diseases and early detection of life-threatening conditions. These efforts, combined with ongoing efforts to build a better insurance marketplace and ensure medical care for all Americans, will pay dividends for generations to come.

I raise my voice in support of employee wellness programs and join a growing chorus of members of Congress, current and former, Democrat and Republican, to call on the EEOC to support the federal government's longstanding commitment to employee wellness programs and drop its proposed regulations. Through these efforts and others, we can join together to help save lives, save money and build a healthier country.

Tauscher served in the House form 1997 to 2009.