Slim Waists, Fat Pockets

June 9th, 2009 | Sources: NY Times

As part of their effort to redesign America’s health care system, 2 key members of Congress have proposed awarding tax credits to employers that offer wellness programs or otherwise promote healthy behavior among workers.

EmployeeworkingoutDemocratic senators Max Baucus of Montana, who chairs the Finance Committee, and Tom Harkin of Iowa, are behind the scheme.

“Prevention and wellness should be a centerpiece of health care reform,” Harkin told the New York Times while taking the stairs to reach his seventh-floor office.

The Big O agrees. In fact one of his eight principles for health reform is that it should “invest in prevention and wellness.”

Harkin suggests that employers ought to receive tax credits for programs focused on tobacco use, physical fitness, obesity and diabetes, blood pressure control, nutrition and depression.

Many employers already offer such wellness programs. Some say they lower health costs and increase productivity. But currently, they must navigate complex labor, tax and insurance laws in order to offer them.

For example, if an employer pays for an employee’s gym membership, the payment is usually dunned as taxable income.

Employers also risk running afoul of a law designed to prevent insurers from discriminating against people because of a pre-existing condition.

Meanwhile, critics like Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, argue that financial incentives amount to lifestyle discrimination.

“You are supposed to be paid on the basis of how you do your job, not how often you go to the gym or how many cheeseburgers you eat,” he scoffed to the Times.


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