On May 29, the U.S. Departments of the Treasury, Labor (DOL) and Health and Human Services issued final regulations amending the 2006 HIPAA nondiscrimination wellness regulationsto implement the employer wellness program provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  The final rules retain the two categories of wellness programs – “participatory wellness programs” and “health-contingent wellness programs.” The final rules do not deviate extensively from the proposed regulations issued in November 2012, although the content has been reorganized to more clearly set forth the requirements for each type of wellness program. The participatory wellness program rules are basically unchanged from the current 2006 regulations – participatory wellness programs comply with the HIPAA nondiscrimination requirements as long as the participant does not have to satisfy any additional standards and participation in the program is made available to all similarly situated individuals, regardless of health status. However, the final rules update and expand on the requirements for health-contingent wellness programs, which condition a reward on a participant’s satisfaction of a standard related to a health factor.

Under the final rules, there are two types of health-contingent wellness programs – “activity-only” programs and “outcome-based” programs. An activity-based wellness program provides a reward if an individual performs or completes an activity related to a health factor, but it does not require the individual to satisfy any specific health outcome. Examples include walking or exercise progams in which a reward is provided just for participation, or rewards for taking a health risk assessment without requiring any further action. An outcome-based wellness program requires an individual to either attain or maintain a specific health outcome – for example, not smoking or achieving certain results in biometric screenings – in order to obtain a reward.

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