Many health insurance carriers are encouraging their coverage holders to participate in health risk assessments as part of wellness programs. These initiatives are a way to deal with health issues early and at less cost. When the insurance is under an employer-sponsored plan, employers hold some leverage over their employees to participate. Spouses and dependants are another story.
A health risk assessment is the collection of information about a person’s current or past health. The purpose is to suggest interventions that might help the person live a healthier life and minimize the need for health care services.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is proposing a rule that would allow employers to offer incentives to employees if their covered spouses will also participate in an assessment. Incentives could be lower health care premiums, higher employer contributions to medical spending accounts, or even good old cash.
One of the concerns of such a program is the potential violation of genetic privacy rights that are guaranteed by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The proposed rule, however, specifically bans incentives for the provision of genetic information. Genetic information is information about genetic tests of a person or his family members. It can also be other health information if it depicts the manifestation of a health condition among family members.
The proposed rule does not permit incentives to encourage risk assessments for dependent children of employees. The reason for this is that the collection of health information for additional family members can be considered to be the collection of genetic information, as noted above.
Any kind of employer-sponsored wellness program that solicits background information regarding an employee’s health must stay within certain guidelines to avoid violating disability discrimination laws. For example, it must be reasonably calculated to improve the health of the participants. It also must not appear to be a ruse for obtaining information that will be used for discriminatory purposes. Incentives for employees whose spouses participate won’t be possible until the EEOC’s rule goes into effect, which will be sometime in 2016.
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