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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Maryland to Define "Wellness Programs"

Over the next few weeks, the Maryland Health Care Commission will be taking up an unusual task: Trying to define what a "wellness program" is.

The effort is the result of a state law called the Working Families and Small Business Health Coverage Act. It was passed in November and would give very small Maryland businesses (2 to 9 employees) subsidies for up to half of their health insurance costs of they offered a "wellness benefit."

Which of course begs the question, raised by physician James Levy of Maryland Mercy Hospital in a recent piece in the Baltimore Business Journal: What exactly qualifies as a wellness benefit?

Those of us who have been offering wellness programs to larger companies for a long time know this can mean any number of things: HRAs (with or without follow up consultation), health fairs, diet and physical activity programs, smoking cessation, walking clubs, employee seminars, health coaching. Some are more effective--and cost-effective--than others.

Let's hope the commissioners are aware of corporate wellness best practices when they define which programs will qualify employers for the subsidy.

It would be a shame of the small employers of Maryland wound up having to do less than they should, or do the wrong thing, to qualify. Properly done, the law could create a healthier state workforce--and healthier balance sheets too.

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