HHS rules to encourage wellness programs

Under the proposed rules, these "health-contingent wellness programs" will now yield a reward of up to 30 percent of the cost of health coverage rather than 20 percent.

Workers involved in smoking cessation programs will be eligible for as much as a 50 percent discount, HHS said. 

The proposed rules also mandate that wellness programs provide alternative means of qualifying for rewards for people with special medical conditions.

Wellness programs are on the rise around the country.

According to Mercer, the human resources consulting firm, the initiatives are now employers' "top long-term strategy" for controlling health spending by encouraging employees to maintain better health. 

Mercer's annual survey, released Nov. 14, found a sharp increase in the use of incentives or penalties to encourage employee participation in wellness programs.

The firm also noted that incentives to participate in wellness programs have become "more substantial," the most common being a reduction in the employee's premium contribution.