Employees are split on whether employer wellness programs intrude on privacy, according to an Issue Brief from the Center for Studying Health System Change (CSHC).
The report details the results of interviews conducted in 2007 in 12 metropolitan American communities: Boston, Cleveland, Greenville, Indianapolis, Lansing, Little Rock, Miami, northern New Jersey, Orange County, Phoenix, Seattle, and Syracuse.
Employee wellness programs are growing in the marketplace as employers try to stem ever-increasing costs, both direct and indirect. This is real money: a report from the American Hospital Association estimated that three chronic diseases — asthma, diabetes and hypertension — accounted for 164 million days of absenteeism each year which cost cost employers $30 billion.
The new employer wellness programs go beyond the archetype health
fairs, blood pressure screenings, and brown-bag lunch information
sessions. This new era in wellness is focusing on health risk
assessments, with an aggressive focus on weight management, smoking
cessation and fitness.
And there’s where some people see the programs rubbing up against employee privacy.
The concerns are how the data that employees report in health risk
appraisals could be used by employers. Employees are concerned that
this information could be used to reduce benefits or for even more
egregious purposes. This is driving health plans to develop systems to
ensure enrollee privacy.
Because these programs are voluntary, employers are providing
incentives to ‘nudge’ employees to join up. These prizes are typically,
according to the CSHC, cash payments for the completion of a health
risk assessment, gift cards, gym membership discounts, and
reimbursement for weight loss programs. It’s more carrot than stick,
consistent with what behavioral economists are recommending in
treatises like the book Nudge.
Jane’s Hot Points: The Center points out that for employees to
join up and stick with wellness programs over the long term, employers
need to demonstrate these programs’ effectiveness as well as continued
vigilance in keeping personal data private. In doing so, the programs
will garner credibility and trust and, ultimately, drive population
health up and costs down.