Wellness grants are money earmarked for programs meant to encourage healthy lifestyles. The grants often are awarded by a government agency to employers, which then must use the money to institute company wellness programs. Schools also have received the grants to incorporate lessons on healthy lifestyles into curricula.
Prevention programs covered under wellness grants vary depending on the parameters of the funding. Program features may focus on stemming obesity or increasing physical activity. Other grants may target specific populations’ health needs, such as diabetes, heart disease, or stress management education. Grants also may fund general lifestyle programs without focusing on specific conditions or health concerns.
Some larger corporations have long offered wellness programs, such as smoking cessation or discounted gym memberships, to their workers. Wellness grants typically target smaller companies, municipalities, or schools that cannot afford to offer such programs on their own without the additional funding. The grants may help those employees benefit from wellness initiatives without, for example, having to switch jobs.
Wellness grants were a feature of the U.S. health reform law passed in 2010. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes a $200 million U.S. Dollars (USD) provision over five years for workplace wellness programs, with money disbursal beginning in 2011. The law is meant to encourage companies with fewer than 100 employees to begin wellness initiatives. Eligible company wellness programs include health education and screenings, programs to change unhealthy behaviors, and creating supportive work environments. Beginning in 2014, the law also allows employers to offer discounted health insurance to workers who participate in wellness programs covered under the grants.
The health reform law is not the first time the U.S. government has used wellness grants. Other initiatives include the Communities Putting Prevention to Work program in 2009. Administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the prevention program awarded $372 million USD to communities nationwide. The grants funded obesity prevention, smoking cessation, physical fitness programs, and nutrition education.
Proponents of wellness grants argue that the funding allows smaller companies or towns to offer healthy lifestyle initiatives to their employees or citizens. Supporters also point out that wellness programs may result in lower health care costs and help companies, which usually provide health insurance to employees, save money. Some critics say that the wellness grants waste government money or that the government should not meddle in personal health decisions made by individuals or families.