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Living healthier is less expensive for everyone – you, your employer, and the nation. Wellness Programs are designed to help reduce healthcare costs nationwide, and also reduce costs for employers offering such programs and incentives, while improving the overall health of their employees.

After the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act took effect in January of this year, media outlets have had ongoing discussion about the Act and its repercussions for employers, individuals, healthcare in general, and beyond. Wellness Programs are just a small part of the healthcare reform conversation.

These programs “exist in many different forms – for example, smoking cessation services, gym memberships, at-work weight loss tools, and so on. In all forms, the main objective is to help people improve their lifestyles and, therefore, their health by creating incentives for healthy behaviors,” according to BlueCross/BlueShield.

Individuals should be aware of the benefits they can enjoy with employer Wellness Program incentives. These inducements can total up to 30 percent of your health coverage; your employer can reduce the amount they charge you for health benefits if you participate in the program.

Not all employers who offer health benefits for their employees offer these Wellness Programs, however. Here is how individuals can take advantage of these new benefits and incentives for health under the ACA:

  • Ask and learn. Does your employer offer wellness programs? Approximately half of employers in the United States offered some type of wellness promotion prior to January 2014. Find out if your employer offers wellness incentives, and what they are.
  • Know your rights. Health-contingent wellness programs must follow certain criteria to comply with the new ACA rules. Your employer’s program should offer different (but reasonable) methods to qualify for the incentives if you do not meet the standards of measurement, test, or screening for health factors. Click here for more information.
  • Join a HHS pilot program. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched a pilot program for the health promotion and disease management of individuals whose employers do not offer wellness programs. Click here for more information about the Department’s prevention programs

Wellness Programs work! From 2009 to 2012, health care company Kaiser Permanente documented improvement in employee blood pressure and cholesterol levels, decrease in smoking, and a constant body mass index average. “It’s about engaging with employees to learn more about what they want, what they think is critical,” said Kathy Gerwig, MBA and vice president of employee safety, health and wellness. “It’s about taking a strategic approach that isn’t just about one particular element, but about looking at health holistically.”