Federal Law Prohibits Asking Certain Questions
Last week, I wrote, “Parity for Mental Health Insurance Coverage,” about a new law that will mandate employers who offer employee health insurance to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment. In a related area, I found this article by Cari Tuna in the Wall Street Journal, “Wellness Efforts Face Hurdle.” The article talks about employers offering incentives to employees so that they will join “wellness” programs. Most incentives take the form of cash, gift cards or reductions in insurance premiums. Entrance to these programs usually starts with a health survey, often requesting information about family history.
But a recent federal law, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, passed in November, 2009, now limits employers or health insurance company’s ability to collect information that discloses genetic-testing results or family history. The EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) states,
“Specifically, the law prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions, restricts the acquisition of genetic information by employers and others, imposes strict confidentiality requirements, and prohibits retaliation against individuals who oppose actions made unlawful by GINA or who participate in proceedings to vindicate rights under the law or aid others in doing so.”
While I understand the rationale behind the act, not discriminating against employees with current or potential health conditions, my concern is that it will deter people who could benefit from health screenings and other wellness programs offered by employers. But I can see why employers and insurers want to give employees these benefits. Healthy employees = lower utilization of insurance coverage = cost savings for the company. I’m sure it’s not a totally financially-based motive either. Healthier people might also be happier and more productive. When a company offers an incentive to get healthier, it allows employees some control over their well-being.
So would you forgo health screenings that are designed to find your predisposition to diabetes or heart disease because they violate your privacy? It’s a tough question.
This is a post by Nancy LaFever. You can read more from her at the Centre for Emotional Wellbeing blog.