Source: American Council on Exercise

In 2014, the Affordable Care Act will fully go into effect, but already there are several wellness, prevention and fitness aspects of the law available to both employers and the public. These programs are designed to encourage and reward preventative healthcare measures with a goal to improve the overall health of the insurance pool with millions more now being insured. According to American Council on Exercise (ACE) CEO Scott Goudeseune, a significant portion of healthcare costs are preventable through the long term adoption of exercise, proper nutrition and wellness programs. These aspects of the Act will help the public make better choices at home and in the workplace for a significant impact on overall health.

With Open Enrollment Periods beginning, ACE breaks down the top four prevention aspects of the Act and suggests next steps for the public and employers to implement its benefits. 1. The change: Increase in the level of insurance discounts provided to employees who participate in workplace wellness programs. The programs must help participants meet certain goals before the discount is available, including body mass index (BMI), cholesterol, or blood pressure. Beginning in 2014 under the Act, participants who meet these health targets may be eligible for up to a 30 percent discount on their insurance premiums (vs. 20 percent formerly) at the employer's discretion. The U.S. Health and Humans services (HHS) division also has the ability to increase this to 50 percent. This gives plan participants an extra financial incentive to reduce their health risks. Studies show that a healthier workforce means more productivity, and employers who choose to implement these discounts for their employees may see benefits for promoting health in the workplace including reduced absenteeism as well as lower future health costs. ACE's suggested action: The increased financial benefit provides a great ROI opportunity for participants to invest in a properly skilled partner to help them meet the criteria. Trained Health Coaches are a great resource to help guide employees through the lifestyle and behavior modification required to enact change. To find a Lifestyle and Weight Management/Health Coach certified by ACE, visit www.acefitness.org/findanacepro. 2. The change: Unlimited reimbursement for fitness and health club memberships allowed in insurance plans.

ACE's suggested action: While the majority of Americans do not have insurance plans that offer health club reimbursement, those that do should take advantage of this benefit. With discounts now available to employers with workforces that meet health requirements, employers should consider investing in membership discount offers. As an alternative, ACE's Get Fit program offers hundreds of free exercises, videos and effective workout plans that can be done at home, with little to no equipment for those without gym access. 3. The change: Both insurance plans and Medicare must now covers the full cost of an "annual wellness visit" to include a body mass index (BMI) measurement, obesity screening and provide personalized health advice and referral to counseling on healthy living, including weight loss and physical activity. ACE's suggested action: This free resource gives people the information they need to understand their numbers and where they should set their goals for improved health. Critical to success is the follow through from this visit to ensure resources are provided for support. A certified personal trainer or health coach is a great resource to help customize programs based on the individual's specific needs and abilities. To find a certified personal trainer in your area, visit www.acefitness.org/findanacepro. 4. The change: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awards Community Transformation Grants to states to develop programs that reduce obesity and improve access to nutritious food. ACE's suggested action: Some states and counties have already taken advantage of the grants, working in schools to help promote the advantages of recess and replacing vending machine items to more nutritious offerings, improving community design for walking and biking and working with businesses to implement workplace wellness programs. ACE encourages local and state governments to review details of available grants and identify community partners to help implement programs.

Emily Attwood is Managing Editor of Athletic Business.