Wellness Programs and Privacy Risks
Jackie here. There has been a recent surge in health and wellness programs sponsored by employers, and this means companies are collecting more personal health data about their employees. Let's take a look at some of the privacy implications.
What Are Corporate Wellness Programs?
Coming soon to a workplace near you are corporate or employer sponsored wellness programs. Wellness programs have become increasingly popular since the Affordable Care Act created new incentives for employers to create and increase participation in these programs. These programs encourage employees to take proactive steps to better health in exchange for incentives. Employers save money on healthcare costs, employees enjoy perks, discounts, and better health. Many of these programs involve sharing health data with your employer.
As health and wellness programs are relatively new, privacy protections and regulations vary greatly. This means that you must take a little extra time before you sign up for a wellness program to ensure your information will be protected.
Who Sees Your Health Data?
Wellness programs acquire a lot of data, information that is potentially seen by many.
Here are a few of the parties that may have access to your health data when you participate in a sponsored wellness program:
Wellness Provider- Many employers hire an outside company to manage their wellness programs. This company might have access to informational surveys and health histories you fill out, data from labs and doctors, self-reported health information, and much more. These companies often reserve the right to share your data with 3rd parties, as needed.
Employer- Employers often receive anonymized data about the health and wellness of their employees. While this data is anonymous, in many cases it can be traced back to a particular worker, especially in small companies (or in larger companies if the reports are broken down by department).
Health Insurer- Health insurers often have access to your health information and may store it in your records.
Fitness App Company/Wearable Device Maker- If you wear a wearable fitness device (like a FitBit) you’ll share information about your activity levels, heart rate, and even sleep patterns with the company managing the wellness app and the device maker.
Fitness Center- If you get points for checking in at the gym, you’re sharing your exercise history with your fitness center and others.
Can I Opt Out?
In some cases, these wellness programs are mandatory. Yes, you’ll get perks as you achieve health goals, but if you choose to opt out, you may have to pay. Many companies charge a premium on the insurance policies of those that decline to participate, sometimes hundreds of dollars each year. Employees are faced with the choice: participate and give up privacy or pay a fine.
What can you do? Understanding the terms and conditions of a wellness program is important. Read the information you receive carefully and ask questions (here’s a great list of ideas). Speak up if you’re uncomfortable.
Do you have a corporate wellness program at your work? Would you like one?