Is Your Company’s Wellness Plan Protecting Your HIPPA Privacy Rights?

Healthy Living

October 27, 2015

As a part of the ACA’s initiatives to drive down the cost of healthcare, wellness programs are being initiated in large and small companies all across America. In theory the concept of the wellness programs sound great on the surface, often offering employees who sign up health and fitness tools, guidance and assistance coupled with monetary incentives to join and accomplish set health goals, what could possibly be wrong with that, right?

What You Should Know Before You Sign up For a Wellness Program

Privacy advocates have expressed numerous concerns for employees HIPAA rights of privacy and avenues of possible discrimination in the workplace the wellness plans may expose individuals to. Another concern is that employees who don’t join the wellness plan are forced to pay more for their insurance plan each year and some employees have expressed concern that they fear, whether rational or not, that their job status may be in danger if they don’t join as well.

The wellness programs begin with a detailed questionnaire that delves into the employee’s personal health, mental health, sleeping, eating and lifestyle habits including alcohol and drug use, and an increasing number of the programs require on going medical testing too. If that isn’t enough some programs go so far as to offer workers money or credit towards insurance premiums if they will allow the wellness program to track their whereabouts, number of steps they have taken that day, even what they purchased at the grocery store. All of these questions involve huge amounts of health data being collected and stored outside of the established medical system where your private information is protected by HIPAA, but may not be with these outside data collectors. Not only is your information being collected by the wellness companies, but also by smart phone apps and tracking devices, companies offering gym services, etc. who then share the data they collect with others including your wellness company.

Privacy advocates say the standards to keep this information confidential is not staying at pace with the industry, raising concerns that the information could be abused in the workplace in terms of discrimination, sold for marketing purposes, or credit screening abuses just to name a few. Until such time as there are privacy protection laws in place nationwide, you may want to ask the following questions from your wellness company before signing up.

Questions You Should Get Answers to Before Joining a Wellness Plan:

  • Ask exactly what information your employer will be able to see and whether or not you can be identified by it?
  • Ask if the program is subject to and compliant with the HIPAA privacy laws?
  • Ask if you give up your HIPAA rights when you fill out the health assessment on the wellness web page or site?
  • Ask if your employer will only see group results, will that actually guarantee your privacy, are group results separated into any other categories etc.?
  • Ask what other companies or entities will see your wellness information and data?
  • Ask what privacy policies all other companies and subcontractors your wellness company shares your information with are required to follow such as HIPAA and others?
  • Ask if it is possible for other parties your wellness information is shared with to try to identify individuals in the group wellness results? It is possible that results can be re-identified, ask if third party partners are prohibited from trying to re-identify the information they receive or share?

At the end of the day only you can decide whether or not it is worth it to you to participate in your company’s wellness plan, but knowing exactly what you’re getting into and what privacies you may have to give up is essential to making good healthcare decisions. Once your information is out there it’s fairly impossible to undo that foregone process, so do your homework and carefully weigh out the pros and cons.