Employers accessing health data

  • It’s estimated that 20% of employers are accessing mhealth data.
  • The data can be used to incentivize employees or raise health insurance premiums.
  • A study found that wellness programs—even those with incentives—don’t change employees’ behavior much.

I have been a vocal critic of the poor health, and lifestyles, of most Americans that are leading to higher healthcare costs. That being said, can employers be trusted with our mhealth data?

According to an article in the WSJ more employers are looking for ways to reduce healthcare costs by accessing your healthcare data and offering incentives if you hit certain milestones or raising your health insurance rates if you don’t.

Over the years, hundreds of studies have examined the efficacy of wellness programs with mixed results; a study from the RAND Corp. found most programs don’t reduce companies’ health costs, while a 2010 review found they do.

Is money enough of an incentive?

Money isn’t much of an incentive. Without any cash offered, a little under half of employees completed an assessment and screening. A $100 reward for completing the screening only boosted that rate to 59 percent. Doubling that reward didn’t make much difference, raising the share of employees finishing the screening merely to 63 percent.

Not that it may have mattered much to their employer. Looking at health insurance claims throughout the year, the researchers found participation in the wellness program didn’t result in better health outcomes or lower health-care costs. 

What about your privacy?

According to the Journal “in addition to tests measuring indicators like blood pressure, wellness programs often involve taking detailed online health assessments that can include questions on alcohol consumption and pregnancy plans. Many programs employ wearable devices that track step counts, sleep and heart rates. Some privacy experts fear that by opting in, individuals may put their data at risk. Wellness programs that are run as part of group health plans are covered by HIPAA, the nation’s main health-privacy law. However, many others aren’t, leaving protection for employee data more porous, said Joy Pritts, who served as chief privacy officer at the Department of Health and Human Services until 2014.

So the key question is “do employees trust their companies to keep their health information private?”. What, for example, is to prevent an employer from hiring someone because they are a diabetic or suffer from early onset MS?

The bottom line is that employers are going to experiment with ways to reduce health insurance costs because they are getting out of hand. Research continues to show that we are not taking steps to lead healthy lives which, in turn, lowers healthcare costs but trusting employers with OUR health data is a huge leap.

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