Controverisal CVS Program Prompts Debate on Worker Health Assessments

When the pharmacy chain CVS announced a new employee health assessment policy, one advocacy group raised privacy concerns. But when done the right way, health assessments can be useful for both companies and employees.

Employee health assessments are quickly becoming common in workplaces, but when one company recently took the practice a step further, a nonprofit was ready with a tough response on behalf of workers.

Here’s why the advocacy group Patient Privacy Rights (PPR) spoke out against CVS’s health-screening policy:

The situation: CVS announced to its workers participating in the company insurance plan that by May 1, they must meet with a doctor and report a number of health factors—including weight, body fat, and glucose levels—to the company. CVS says the program is voluntary, but employees who do not agree to the tests must pay $50 more per month for their health insurance, or $600 a year. The company, which employs 200,000 people nationwide, calls the move “a health screening and wellness review so that colleagues know their key health metrics in order to take action to improve their numbers, if necessary.”

This is an incredibly coercive and invasive thing to ask employees to do.

The response: Speaking to the Boston Herald, PPR’s founder, Dr. Deborah Peel, was critical of the policy. “This is an incredibly coercive and invasive thing to ask employees to do,” she told the newspaper. “Rising healthcare costs are killing the economy, and businesses are terrified. Now, we’re all in this terrible situation where employers are desperate to get rid of workers who have costly health conditions, like obesity and diabetes.” Peel also questioned whether the program was truly voluntary, considering that many employees covered under the plan make relatively low wages. CVS responded to the criticism, noting that employees’ personal health records would be kept private.

What other employers do: Company-sponsored health assessment are common, according to a 2011 study by the National Business Group on Health, which noted that 79 percent of employers offered employees a health assessment in 2011, with 76 percent offering incentives for completion. Fewer companies push their employees to undergo such assessments, or apply penalties as CVS is doing.

What should your policy be? According to the Society for Human Resource Management, health assessment programs can be beneficial. “State-of-the-art health assessments work by allowing wellness program providers to collect data not only about participants’ risks but also about their psychological readiness to change, which is a key element in tailoring a wellness program to be more effective for individuals,” according to an article on the SHRM website. “When used with an appropriate incentive strategy that encourages behavior change rather than passive participation, the health assessment serves as a valuable entry point to a best-practice program.” However, the Affordable Care Act may play a role in how such incentive programs work, the Health Enhancement Research Organization’s Jerry Noyce notes.

Does your association offer—or require—employee health assessments, and how do you handle employee privacy concerns? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

(Digital Vision/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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