Tuesday, July 1, 2008

HIPAA and Corporate Wellness: What Employees Say

A new issue brief from the Center for Studying Health System Change (CSHC) called “Health and Wellness: The Shift from Managing Illness to Promoting Health,” takes a great, broad look at the rise of corporate wellness programs.


As part of that, it delves into the very current—and controversial—topic of whether aggressive wellness programs like health risk assessments based on things like weight management, smoking cessation and fitness violate workers privacy rights under HIPAA and other laws.

The report cites the 2007 Health Confidence Survey by Employee Benefit Research Institute and Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc, which found that 11 percent of respondents strongly agree that “employers that offer wellness programs are intruding on worker privacy,” while 35 percent somewhat agree. On the flip side, 29 percent somewhat disagree with that statement, while 25 percent strongly disagree. Decidedly mixed results, no?

Given these figures, it’s not surprising that it can be a challenge to get employees to participate in corporate wellness initiatives. I certainly understand workers’ fears about how personal, often highly sensitive information about their health and lifestyles will be used by employers. Will their benefits be cut back? Will they be fired if they smoke or are overweight or have a high risk for heart disease?

The answer is obviously no, but how do we make that clear and build trust and confidence in corporate wellness? As the folks at CSHC note, financial and results-based incentives can help, but ultimately we need to do everything we can to assure employees that their privacy is being 100 percent protected. After all, as the CSHC report points out:

“In the short term, it is likely that interest in health and wellness initiatives will gain momentum as employers continue to confront the pressure of rising health care costs. Longer term, however, the degree to which these initiatives are seen as credible health-improvement and cost-containment efforts will depend largely on developing evidence that initiatives are effective—clinically and financially. It also will depend on consumers’ acceptance and validation of their legitimacy.”

It's more important than ever to make sure your wellness programs abide by HIPAA and other privacy regulations. At Wellness Corporate Solutions we've been following this closely for awhile. And we'll continue to. For more information, check out our previous posts on HIPAA issues.

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