Ranking Member of Senate Health Committee Seeks to Set Standard For "Wellness"
Underlying the significant national debate about federal health care reform is the persistent question of the increasing, and often preventable, chronic health conditions and the exponential costs that our nation will incur if it is not addressed.
Ranking Member of the Senate Health Committee Senator Kemp Hannon has introduced legislation (S8186) that established a committee on public wellness within the Department of Health to assist health insurers and employers in creating wellness programs for insured and employees.
"Ask several different people on the street how they define the term 'wellness' and I guarantee that you get a plethora of diverse answers. A qualified wellness program is intended to be one that has comprehensive physical, mental and behavioral health components buttressed by proper information and medically appropriate advice. Yet, some people will tell you that wellness is a matter of proper diet and exercise, while others say there's a social and mental health component. This legislation will help to set a standard for wellness programs throughout the State, which we desperately need," said Senator Kemp Hannon.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), medical care costs of people with chronic diseases account for more than 75 percent of the nation's $2 trillion in medical care costs. These figures include estimated costs of $174 billion from direct and indirect expenses as a result of diabetes annually, $193 billion estimated from the direct and indirect costs associated with smoking, and the near $117 billion of estimated total costs associated with obesity (as calculated in 2000). Preempting health care costs, through wellness programs and education is one way to combat the significant problems that this nation will face in the future.
Federal laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), tax laws, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) make it difficult for insurers and employers to implement the most successful programs. Greater participation by employers and insurers could be encouraged in New York State through the implementation of an advisory committee charged with guiding such entities through these complicated laws and regulations.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and data collected by the National Compensation Survey, public sector workers have higher rates of access to wellness programs and employee assistance programs than do private sector workers. In a 2009 study, the Bureau of Labor found that employee access to employer-provided wellness programs had increased from 35 percent to 54 percent for public sector full-time workers; and from 1999 to 2009 access had increased from 19 percent to 28 percent for private sector full-time workers.
While it is laudable that employers have taken the first steps in providing wellness initiatives, it is vital that programs be streamlined in order to create appropriate and successful wellness programs for the benefit of employers, insurers, employees, and our State alike. It is foreseeable that Hannonís legislation will not only benefit our citizens in the immediate future through improved health, but also in the long-term through fiscal recoveries in the fields including, but not limited to, health and insurance.