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July 17, 2007
Senators Propose Tax Credit for Employee Wellness Programs

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) have proposed legislation that would create a tax credit for employers that offer wellness programs.

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The Healthy Workforce Act (Senate Bill 1753) would provide a tax credit of up to $200 per employee for the first 200 employees, and up to $100 per employee thereafter, to businesses that offer comprehensive wellness programs.

To qualify for the tax credit, employee wellness programs would be required to include at least three of the following four components:

1. Health awareness programs that include education and health risk assessment programs;

2. An employee engagement component that:

  • Establishes a committee to engage employees in worksite wellness programs through worksite assessments and program planning, delivery, evaluation, and improvement efforts, and
  • Tracks employee participation.

3. A behavioral change component that provides for altering employee lifestyles to encourage healthy living through counseling, seminars, online programs, or self-help materials that provide technical assistance and problem solving skills. The component may include programs relating to:

  • Tobacco use,
  • Obesity,
  • Stress management,
  • Physical fitness,
  • Nutrition,
  • Substance abuse,
  • Depression, and
  • Mental health promotion (including anxiety).

4. A supportive environment component that includes the following:

  • Policies and services at the worksite which promote a healthy lifestyle, including policies relating to:
    • Tobacco use at the worksite,
    • The nutrition of food available at the worksite through cafeterias and vending options,
    • Minimizing stress and promoting positive mental health in the workplace,
    • Where applicable, accessible and attractive stairs, and
    • The encouragement of physical activity before, during, and after work hours.
  • Qualified incentive benefits for each employee who participates in the health screenings or the behavioral change programs.
  • The opportunity for employees to participate in the management of any qualified wellness program.

The tax credit would be available to an eligible employer for 10 years.

"An investment in preventative health care is one of the greatest opportunities we have to improve America 's health and to control skyrocketing healthcare costs," says Senator Smith. "By encouraging businesses to educate and motivate their employees to take their health seriously, we can take a significant step toward lowering healthcare costs and keeping our population healthy."

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