United States: Recent Guidance On Wellness Programs Clarifies Premium Surcharges For Tobacco Use

As previously reported, the federal agencies responsible for drafting the rules implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (the U.S. Labor Department, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Treasury Department (together, the "Departments")) on January 9, 2014 issued FAQ Part XVIII, regarding implementation of the market reform provisions of the ACA.

These FAQs are part of the government's efforts to provide so-called "subregulatory guidance" – that is, guidance providing relatively quick helpful answers to respond to issues and trends affecting group health plans and insurers. FAQ Part XVIII includes guidance for employers sponsoring wellness programs that contain tobacco cessation components, and on the "reasonable alternatives" required to be made available under health-contingent wellness programs.

By way of background, on June 3, 2013, the Departments issued final regulations, effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2014, regarding nondiscriminatory wellness programs that are part of group health coverage (the "Final Regulations"). The Final Regulations explain the new ACA rules that increase the maximum permissible reward under a health-contingent wellness program from 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost of group health plan coverage, and further increase the maximum reward to 50 percent for programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use. The FAQs address several issues that have been raised since the publication of the Final Regulations.

Premium Surcharges for Tobacco Use

The FAQs clarify that if a group health plan provides a reasonable opportunity to avoid a tobacco use surcharge at the beginning of a plan year (e.g., a tobacco cessation educational program), the plan is not required to provide another opportunity to avoid the surcharge that year to a participant who declined the initial opportunity. The FAQs note that nothing prevents the plan from providing another opportunity that year for a participant to avoid the surcharge, or for prorating rewards for those who complete the reasonable alternative later that plan year after having declined it initially.

As a reminder, group health plans that impose a surcharge on tobacco users may do so only as part of a wellness program that complies with the Final Regulations. One requirement of a compliant wellness program is that it must be reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease (i.e., the wellness program cannot consist solely of a premium surcharge for tobacco users). Given this requirement, and that the program must provide a reasonable alternative to all tobacco users, many employers require completion of an educational program as the alternative to being tobacco-free. The Final Regulations contain an example of a compliant tobacco cessation program that offers an educational program as its reasonable alternative standard. In the example, the plan makes an educational program available or assists individuals in finding such a program (instead of requiring an individual to find a program unassisted), and does not require individuals to pay for the cost of the program.

Involvement of a Participant's Physician

Certain wellness programs require individuals to attain a particular outcome with respect to a health factor to earn a reward (or avoid a surcharge). For example, a group health plan might require participants to have a body mass index (BMI) of less than 30 to earn a reward (or avoid a surcharge). This type of wellness program is an outcome-based wellness program (as is a program that imposes a surcharge on tobacco users). A participant who cannot attain the desired outcome must be allowed to satisfy a reasonable alternative standard. The participant may also involve his or her doctor, who might recommend an alternative, such as a weight reduction program (an activity-only program).

The FAQs clarify that the plan must provide a reasonable alternative standard that accommodates the recommendations of the participant's doctor with regard to medical appropriateness; however, the plan is not required to accept the specific alternative offered by the participant's doctor. For example, assume that a participant's doctor advises that an outcome-based wellness program's standard for obtaining a reward is medically inappropriate for the participant. The doctor suggests a weight reduction program (an activity-only program) instead. The FAQs provide the plan some discretion with regard to selecting the program, indicating that "many different weight reduction programs may be reasonable for this purpose, and a participant should discuss different options with the plan."

On the other hand, assume that a group health plan pays a reward for participants with cholesterol below a specified level and specifies that the wellness program's physician designates the required alternative for participants with cholesterol in excess of the specified level. This program would fail the requirements for wellness programs because it does not provide the participant with an opportunity to comply with a different alternative standard recommended by the participant's doctor.

Note that in general, an activity-only program is required to provide a reasonable alternative only if it is unreasonably difficult or medically inadvisable for the participant to attempt to satisfy the program's requirements. In other words, a participant generally cannot involve a personal physician in an activity-only program unless the initial standard or the reasonable alternative is unreasonably difficult or medically inadvisable.

Reasonable Alternative Standard Language

The Final Regulations included model language that would notify participants of the availability of reasonable alternatives. The FAQs clarify that employers are permitted to modify the regulatory sample language if they wish. In particular, plan sponsors should consider modifying the language to reflect the details of their wellness programs, such as contact information for obtaining a reasonable alternative standard and a statement that recommendations of an individual's personal physician will be accommodated. If plan materials merely mention that an alternative program is available, without describing its terms, this statement is not required. Also, in all cases, the notice must include the other required regulatory content, even if the language is modified.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Fox Rothschild LLP
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Fox Rothschild LLP
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions