Friday, May 15, 2009

Cornyn and Harkin: Jumpstart Workplace Wellness

“When General Motors spends more on health care than steel and Starbucks more on health care than coffee beans, something is seriously askew. Corporations are spending untold tens of billions on illness, hospitalization, absenteeism and lost productivity. Wouldn’t it make better sense — and better profitability — to shift a large share of those health care dollars toward wellness and disease prevention? Many forward-thinking business leaders say just that. They view skyrocketing health care costs as a clear and present danger to global competitiveness. And they are eager to integrate wellness programs — employee gyms, nutrition counseling, smoking-cessation programs — into their workplaces. But not all businesses can afford the upfront costs to do this. That’s why we introduced the Healthy Workforce Act, with strong support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Heart Association, the National Business Coalition on Health and many others. Our bipartisan bill would provide a 50 percent tax credit to businesses that offer a qualified, comprehensive wellness program to their employees. We are especially interested in making it affordable for more small businesses to offer wellness programs. Chronic diseases account for more than 75 percent of current U.S. medical expenditures. This includes heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stress and depression — many of which are preventable by changes in diet and lifestyle. Yet less than 3 percent of our health care spending goes toward prevention and wellness.

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