Blog | Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Big Brother (er, your boss) is watching you

Julie Appleby of Kaiser Health News wrote a nice story about the growing trend of employers that offer wellness programs to their employees.

There are a multitude of reasons why employers do this: mainly, it's with a binary goal of encouraging employees to lead healthy lifestyles and in turn save money on health insurance premiums, both for the employees themselves but also as a business cost.

As Appleby's article points out, neither the wellness benefits nor the savings are all they're cracked up to be. First, the tests that are offered are not always recommended by the best available medical evidence. They're superfluous in many cases and wind up costing time, money, and anxiety when they return a result considered “abnormal.” Secondly, the evidence regarding workplace wellness programs is that they don't save money. To the contrary, offering unnecessary testing to people that don't need it simply adds to our national health expenditure.

All of the above is debatable, of course. Proponents of testing cannot be swayed from the viewpoint that “catching things early” is an unalloyed good. What's not debatable is that as workplace wellness programs grow, more companies are using them as carrots and sticks by offering discounts on premiums, cash bonuses, or higher cost-sharing to those that don't participate.

To get a flavor of how some employees view these types “optional-but-not-really-optional” programs, I offer a couple of comments from NPR's website in response to Appleby's article.

From silicon28:

“Biometrics are growing,” as a way to help workers know if they face health challenges “they may not even know they have,” said Paul Coppol …”

That is complete baloney. Biometrics … including the current ones through my workplace insurance that are now tied to the “rebate” on our premium (a nice way to coerce everyone into the program to keep from paying a penalty, in reality) are all about saving money for the company and the insurance provider. Actually assisting the individual? Not even in the top 10 reasons as to why this strange “Big Brother” monster keeps growing. I'm currently eating the $300 per year that I was initially supposed to have as a “reward” for being involved; now it's tied to actual readings with blood pressure or cholesterol, etc. that I have to “pass” before I can receive it. Even though I'm fully involved with my health care and none of these would be problematic, I'm not about to let the company that far into my HIPPA privacy. This entire phenomenon should be making people very, VERY afraid of what the next steps are that are coming …

From Averal:

Tying health insurance to employment is insane.

So what's to keep your employer from finding something wrong with your performance, attitude, or SOMETHING when they discover you have early stage disease that has the potential to cost them a fortune to treat?

“Well he was a really nice guy, and he did his job, but it just wasn't cost effective to keep him on the payroll.”

It's well worth a look. Click over and read the article.

This post by John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, originally appeared at GlassHospital. Dr. Schumann is a general internist. His blog, GlassHospital, seeks to bring transparency to medical practice and to improve the patient experience.