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HC reform boosts workplace wellness
Provisions target health of HC workforce
Work-based wellness programs and other occupational health initiatives are getting a boost under a little-known provision of the health care reform legislation.
The law created a 15-member National Healthcare Workforce Commission, which will include health care workers, employers, labor unions, third-party payers, consumers, and health care economists. This panel will consider the current and future needs of the health care workforce.
"Dropped into this bill is a requirement that [the panel] submit recommendations to the Congress to improve the safety and health...in the workplace for health care workers," says Pat O'Connor, director of government affairs for the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) in Washington, DC. ACOEM plans to nominate someone with a background in occupational health and safety, he says.
In a blog commentary on the website of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH director John Howard, MD, noted that the bill creates a $2 billion annual investment in public health for "prevention, wellness and public health activities." It seeks to expand the health care workforce as well as to support existing health care workers, he said.
"While many of the changes will not take place for several years, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act promises to go a long way towards improving the health of Americans and, in turn, American workers," he said.
Small employers can receive grants to implement wellness programs, and the bill directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide tools and technical assistance to employers that are developing wellness programs. CDC also must evaluate workplace wellness programs to determine what works, says O'Connor.
The health care reform bill also called for CDC to conduct a survey of worksite health policies and programs and to make recommendations to Congress.
O'Connor notes that while Healthy People 2010 set a goal for 70% of workplaces to have wellness programs, fewer than 20% do. "What's been done to date [with wellness] has not been overly successful," he says. "We're hoping with health care reform that the tools will be there and the funding will be there to take this to the next level."
CDC – probably through NIOSH – will conduct research into the link between work-based wellness and employees' health status, he says. "One of the problems to date is that there's been no generally accepted metric for evaluating wellness programs," O'Connor says. "Do they reduce absenteeism? Do they reduce medical costs and the rate of workplace injury?"
ACOEM is especially interested in the link between wellness and workplace productivity, he says.
As the health care workforce expands, and health care reform emphasizes a need for greater efficiency, there will be new opportunities for occupational health, predicts Bill Borwegen, MPH, health and safety director of the Service Employees International Union. "[Policy makers] are clearly going to look at the changing workforce and the expansion of the workforce," he says of the impact of health care reform. "Ideally there will be more jobs for people who are concerned about health care worker health and safety."