Employer Wellness Plans: Even HR doesn’t think they are effective but personal data is at risk

December 17th, 2014 by MorganDowney Leave a reply »

Contrary to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest assertion that employer wellness plans, a majority of Chief Human Resource Officers surveyed by the Consero Group think otherwise. In the survey, 56% said that their wellness program had not achieved a significant reduction in health care costs; only 22% of respondents said their company had achieved a significant cost reduction. Forty-eight percent said that their wellness program was ineffective while only 40% said it was effective. The survey was among 42 Chief Human Resources Officers from Fortune 1000 companies so it cannot be said to be highly representative of this group.

A recent Wall St. Journal report states that 38% of firms now cover bariatric surgery, one-third offer weight reduction wellness program. A small number of companies are “warming” to newly approved weight-loss drugs. However, the report also notes that 71% of employers representing 600,000 workers said overcoming stigma and embarrassment represented the biggest hurdle to effective corporate weight-loss programs.

An article by Shannon Pettypiece in Bloomberg yesterday stressed the personal information asked by employers, including whether the employee (or spouse if covered by the employer paid health insurance) is sexually active, how much one drinks, etc. The article includes a number of assurances from providers of wellness programs that their data is secure. Baloney. If Sony and the National Security Agency cannot protect their secrets how good is security at your local wellness office? Health risk assessments may also inquire whether the employee owns guns, something sure to raise the hackles of the National Rifle Association.

To clear up one confusing aspect, namely, whether health information given to an employer directly or to an employer wellness program is protected by federal law. According to the website of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights, health information provided to employers or as part of a wellness program is NOTprotected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Just because a program is covered by HIPAA this does not mean the information is protected. The Office of Civil Rights records numerous cases of data breaches. A Washington Post story by Jason Millman reported that over 30 million Americans have had their personal health care data breached.