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by Leo Jakobson | January 25, 2016
An article in the Jan. 25 issue of The New York Times reports that a recent federal court ruling upheld the right of employers to force employees to enroll in wellness programs using the threat of higher premiums, or even losing health care coverage altogether.

The main case involves a Wisconsin company that did not have access to individual employees' health care data, but other litigation, also brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, include one worker who lost her health insurance and was later fired, the Times reports. 

The root of the cases, the Times says, pits the Americans with Disabilities Act's prohibition against employers forcing employees to provide health information against the Affordable Care Act's (aka Obamacare) support of penalties for failing to participate in wellness programs. 

What's interesting is that the cases the EEOC has fought (and lost) in federal district court take a stick-rather-than-carrot approach that could ultimately make incentivizing employees to participate in wellness programs unnecessary by imposing untenable financial penalties on employees for refusing to participate. 

Over the past several years, Incentive has seen more companies that are progressive and forward-thinking about wellness programs turn to positive incentives to go beyond health assessments, and even beyond biometric screening of things like blood pressure and cholesterol levels, to offer incentives for actually making improvements in their health. But most of these companies have gone to great lengths to reassure employees that they do not have access to individuals' health information. Using opt-in incentive programs can reassure participants and help engage them with both the program and the company; imposing penalties will build resentment and introduce privacy concerns. 

The Times' article, "Employee Wellness Programs Use Carrots and, Increasingly, Sticks," is well worth looking at if you have or are considering a wellness program.