Should You Take Advantage Of Your Employer's Wellness Benefit?

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With most employers being required to shoulder more of the cost of employee health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many have turned to employee wellness programs to improve employee health (and decrease the number of claims) by encouraging healthy activities. Employees who track their steps using a pedometer, have a health screening, or record entries in an online food journal may have access to cheaper health insurance premiums, even if in a high-risk group. If your employer offers one of these programs, you may be tempted by the prospect of less expensive health insurance -- but still have privacy concerns about whether your employer will be able to gain access to your private health information.

Will these programs give your employer access to your confidential health data?

The federal Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevents doctors, hospitals, and other medical providers (as well as health insurers) from disclosing confidential health information to any non-covered entities. There are few exceptions to this rule, even if you seek treatment for an activity that is against the law. This means that if you visit your doctor to seek treatment for an illegal drug addiction, both your doctor and health insurance provider are prohibited from disclosing your addiction -- even if your employer asks.

However, employee wellness programs aren't always specifically covered by HIPAA. This means that you'll need to get more information about your company's program in order to determine whether your employer will have access to your healthcare information -- and if so, whether this access is worth the lowered premium costs. Generally, if the program is administered through your health insurance company, any data created through the program is protected from disclosure by HIPAA. If your employer administers this program directly (such as by offering a bonus or matching health insurance contributions), the information may not be protected. 

Should you sign up for a non-HIPAA-covered wellness plan?

If you're young and generally healthy, you probably see nothing wrong with letting your employer know this. On the other hand, if you are seeking treatment for a condition you'd rather your employer not know about, or if you're worried your high cholesterol or blood pressure could place you on the chopping block during the next round of layoffs, you may be reluctant to sign up for a wellness program administered by your employer. Before making your final decision, you'll want to check with your state's department of insurance to see whether there are other state laws that could help protect your health information, or whether there are ways to fulfill your employer's requirements that won't give up sensitive information. For assistance, talk to a professional like Reed & Baur Insurance Agency.

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