WASHINGTON, DC — Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) recently introduced legislation that could encourage businesses to implement workplace wellness programs for their employees.

The Healthy Workforce Act would provide tax incentives to businesses — particularly small- and medium-sized employers — that provide opportunities for their employees to lead healthier lives and prevent chronic illnesses.

According to the Healthy Workforce Act, companies that spend $400 per employee on comprehensive wellness plans would receive a tax credit of up to $200 per employee for the first 200 employees and up to $100 per employee thereafter.

The types of employee wellness programs eligible for the tax credit must include three of the four following provisions: health awareness programs; behavioral change programs; an employee engagement committee; and an environment to encourage employee participation, including offering incentives such as lower health insurance premiums.

An employer can receive the tax credit for 10 years after establishing qualified wellness programs.

“In America, we don't have a health care system; we have a sick care system,” Harkin said at a press conference on July 9. “Corporate America has the expertise, the resources and the enlightened self-interest to change the way we approach health care in this country.”

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) is a co-sponsor of the bill.

According to Workforce Management magazine, the bill could be attached to a Senate tax bill this fall. Harkin is seeking backers in the House of Representatives. Harkin's staff spent two years consulting with companies and business and health groups before writing the bill, according to the magazine.

Advocates of wellness programs estimate that for every $1 spent on wellness, a company can save $3 to $4 in health care costs.