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Byrne Statement: Markup of H.R. 1313, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act


Obamacare has been a disaster for working families. For years, workers have struggled to make ends meet and small businesses have struggled to keep their doors open due to the law’s harmful consequences. From increased costs to limited choices, the flawed 2010 health care law has made it more difficult for employers wanting to provide workers with health care coverage.

While Congress is already taking steps to provide relief from the law, it’s also our responsibility to implement positive reforms in its place that will lower health care costs, expand affordable coverage, and promote a healthy workforce. That’s why we are here today. Encouraging innovation in employer-provided health care coverage is an important part of our health care reform efforts. By finding ways to successfully promote a healthy workforce, we can help lower health care costs for working families. Employee wellness programs do just that.

Wellness programs provide employees and their families with various incentives — such as lower health care premiums — for making healthy lifestyle choices. The programs reward activities like exercising or maintaining appropriate cholesterol levels that can drive down costs and promote a healthier and more productive workforce.

Allison Klausner, an employee benefits expert who recently testified before this committee, described employee wellness programs as a “cornerstone of health care reform.” She said, “Not only are these programs important for achieving better health outcomes for employees and their families, they also have the potential to increase employee productivity, improve workforce morale and engagement, and reduce health care spending.”

These plans are not only effective, but they are also popular and widely supported by employers and employees. A recent survey showed more than 60 percent of all employers offer their employees the option of enrolling in a wellness program. And this free-market health care solution has long received bipartisan support from Congress. In fact, one of the only bipartisan provisions in the 2010 health care law allows employers to discount health insurance premiums up to 50 percent, in some circumstances, for employees who voluntarily participate in a wellness program.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has worked to undermine these popular and effective wellness programs. The commission pursued costly litigation against employers and published restrictive rules that created significant regulatory confusion. This is simply not acceptable. If we want to lower health care costs, our policies should encourage — rather than discourage — the adoption of free-market solutions. That’s why I urge support of the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act.

H.R. 1313 reasserts the bipartisan intent of Congress to encourage the development of employee wellness programs. Under H.R. 1313, employers will have the legal certainty they need to reward workers for making health lifestyle decisions. H.R. 1313 also reaffirms existing law that allows employers to provide responsible incentives for participation in employee wellness programs.

By eliminating the red tape surrounding employee wellness plans, Congress can help employers expand access to these popular plans and the benefits they provide for workers. The substitute amendment I am offering makes clear that if a wellness program complies with the non-discrimination standards in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, then the program will also meet the requirements for wellness programs in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The amendment makes a number of technical changes to the introduced bill so it more accurately reflects congressional intent to facilitate these programs.

By empowering employers to adopt employee wellness programs, we can take a positive step toward lowering health care costs and promoting a healthy workforce. I’d like to thank Chairwoman Foxx for her leadership on this important legislation and strongly urge my colleagues to support the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act. Through our support of H.R. 1313 and other positive reforms, Congress can provide Americans with a patient-centered health care system that delivers more choices, lower costs, and greater control for working families.