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News & Press: Legislative Issues

State's Workplace Wellness Program

Thursday, November 13, 2014  
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State’s workplace wellness grant program

Back in March 2014, Gov. Scott Walker signed the Healthy Jobs Act into law after it was approved unanimously by the State Legislature. The new law, which was the top legislative priority in the 2013-14 legislative session for WPHA and its advocacy partner, the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards (WALHDAB), created a $15 million workplace wellness grant program for Wisconsin small businesses.

The grant program is designed to encourage small employers to invest in employee wellness initiatives, which have been shown to help businesses manage health care costs, boost worker productivity and reduce absenteeism. Employers that focus on wellness are also likely to experience fewer workplace injuries and better employee morale.

Under the new law, businesses with 50 or fewer employees that implement a wellness program would be eligible for a grant equal to 30% of the cost of implementing the program. The grant program will be administered by the state Department of Health Services (DHS) and will provide $3 million per year for five years for eligible small businesses.

However, before businesses can take advantage of the grant funding, DHS must establish agency procedures, known as administrative rules, to manage the program. The administrative rulemaking process is subject to oversight by the Governor and the Legislature and typically takes 18 months to 2 years to complete.

The Department has already completed a scope statement of the proposed workplace wellness rule and is now in the process of completing a working draft of the rule. The working draft, when completed, will reflect months of research and analysis as well as input gathered from a stakeholder advisory committee. The advisory committee was comprised of public health organizations, including WPHA and WALHDAB, small business groups and health and wellness experts.

The committee worked extremely well with DHS staff and stressed the importance of: 1.) A simple and quick application and approval process – in an effort not to discourage businesses from applying; 2.) A clearly defined grading method to weed out potential fraud and ineligible businesses; and 3.) Broadly defining small business to ensure as many employers as possible are eligible for the grant.

In addition, the advisory committee urged DHS to collect as much data as allowed under the law from businesses applying for the grant – including number of employees, the cost of the wellness program and the types of wellness services offered to employees. The Department will also ask businesses to volunteer additional information about their wellness programs to help measure the success of the grant program over the long term.

The rule should be finalized by the end of the year, meaning DHS will likely send it to the Legislature for approval in January. Legislative approval entails a review by several key committees, but does not require a vote by the full Legislature. The goal is to have the rules approved by lawmakers and in place before June 30 – the end of the state's fiscal year – so small businesses can take full advantage of the five-year program.

As the administrative rules process continues to unfold, WPHA will keep members updated on the grant program's official start date. Once the grant funding is available, small employers across the state will have access to the necessary resources to invest in wellness programs and ultimately improve the health of their employees.

*Written by WPHA's Lobbyist Michael Welsh

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