Starting January 1, 2014, the Affordable Care Act will dramatically expand the ability of companies to penalize employees for lifestyle issues, including being overweight or smoking, in the name of “wellness incentives.” Overweight and obese employees may now face staggering financial penalties of up to 30% of the cost of their health plan, and up to 50% of the cost of their health plan if they smoke.

Wellness incentives are powerful behavior-change tools. Trouble is, none of the penalty programs that companies are planning to administer under Obamacare’s expanded penalization allowance bear any resemblance to the wellness incentives that academic, clinical and industry research have shown to be powerful tools that promote behavior change. In fact, there is no published academic research to show that the government’s penalization programs lead to weight loss, but there is ample evidence that these programs are inequitable cost-shifting tools, disproportionately burdening those least able to afford health care.

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