According to a viewpoint article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, financial incentives under workplace wellness programs encouraged by the Affordable Care Act might not be enough to motivate workers to adopt healthy lifestyle choices.  Penalties under such programs could leave employees less healthy and financially worse off.

HHS and the departments of Labor and Treasury issued a rule that allows employers to award employees as much as 30 percent of the cost of health coverage for participating in wellness programs, an increase from the current 20 percent. Meanwhile, workers who enroll in smoking cessation programs could earn back as much as 50 percent of their coverage costs. Meanwhile, employees who do not participate in a wellness program could face penalties.

According to article, this approach could be risky. The authors write, “Even though some employers might be satisfied with simply having higher-risk employees pay more for insurance in accordance with their risk, from the standpoint of enhancing the health of the U.S. population this would be a lost opportunity.”

The authors added that changing unhealthy behaviors often is difficult because of substance use disorders or environmental and social challenges.