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DAN GIBSON — The workplace wellness tax credit – a win-win for Mississippi

Dan Gibson

Dan Gibson

If you’re like me, you really get tired of hearing about how fat we are. Do we really need anyone to tell us?? Sure we have some of the best cooks in the world, but it’s just awful how much we get picked on. Travel to any other place, especially a foreign country, and it’s easy to see why we are fat – talk about awesome Southern cuisine!

But, while the country continues to … well, let’s face it … grow… the Magnolia state is fortunately no longer the most obese state. Thank you, Arkansas and West Virginia – we are now third.

After so many poor reports and failed health grades, it is time for Mississippi to do something. That is why we are proposing a very unique solution: A Workplace Wellness Tax Credit. Basically, it would be an income tax credit to help offset a portion of the costs employers pay to offer qualified wellness programs to their employees. According to our research, three states are doing this: Massachusetts, Maine and Wisconsin – sounds to me like a good opportunity for Mississippi to become the first Southern state to be added to the list!

Why Wellness? Simply put, wellness programs help people stay well. Many studies, including one recently done by Harvard, report that with wellness comes a significant return on investment. In fact, several Mississippi employers are finding this out. Southern Farm Bureau Life, an employer of about 1,000, reports tremendous savings due to its wellness program – savings in the millions! Other companies, such as Viking Range in Greenwood, Hol-Mac Corp. in Bay Springs, and the Beau Rivage on the coast, share the same story: healthier employees are saving them millions in insurance claims, both in health and workers’ comp.

It’s easy to imagine what a statewide wellness effort would mean: lower obesity rates… reduced cardiovascular disease… a reduction in diabetes, cancer and other conditions… healthy mothers carrying their babies to term. Any number of these results could save the state of Mississippi millions.

We are not talking about a huge tax credit… just a meaningful one. Statewide, there would be a cap of $1 Million for the whole program – just enough to get it started and begin to see what the savings to our state would be. And there will be savings… Medicaid reports that every time we pay for a pre-term baby, the cost to tax-payers averages over $50,000. Prevent just one, and we are well on our way to savings.

The credit would be on a first-come, first-serve basis, and it would only cover up to half of the program cost. And the program must be qualified. An employer can’t just put a treadmill in the break room and call it day. The wellness program must contain proper wellness criteria and management, and an employer must be able to show measurable progress from year-to-year in order to continuing receiving the credit.

The best part is that any employee working an average of not less than 24 hours per week during the taxable year can benefit. The credit would apply to both full-time and part-time employees, even those uninsured, or currently insured by Medicaid or elsewhere. All may benefit.

Does this sound like a good idea to you? If it does, please contact your state representative or senator. A bill is being introduced in the 2016 Legislative Session, and it needs your support!

Perhaps, with a statewide wellness campaign, Mississippi will finally get more attention for something other than its delicious fried chicken and collard greens. Not that those are bad things! ☺

» Dan Gibson is the executive director for MASI, the Mississippi Association of Self-Insurers, representing hundreds of Mississippi employers with millions in annualized premiums in both self-insured health and workers compensation. For more information on MASI, Mississippi’s Workplace Wellness Tax Credit, contact Dan, 601-354-0199, dangibson@masiweb.org, www.masiweb.org.

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