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CVS proposes voluntary health screenings, but are they really voluntary?

by AirTalk®

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In a memo, CVS introduces a wellness program that requires employees to report their health information for benefits and incentives. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In today’s economy, many businesses are looking for ways to cut costs across the board. Many of these efforts are focused on health insurance programs for employees. Typically, companies will offer incentives to their workers who voluntarily submit to health screenings of their vital signs, as well as tests for blood sugar, diabetes, obesity and cholesterol. The economic incentives provide relief to employees, and amassing health data is beneficial for companies to know which areas their employees need to focus on, thus saving money on medical costs in the long run. However, one company is bucking the trend of offering incentives, and instead will penalize workers on the company’s health plan who don’t submit to such screenings.

The company refers to this as a voluntary practice, but critics find it impossible to call something voluntary when there is a financial punishment attached. Forgoing the screenings would cost each employee $50 a month, totaling $600 a year. For middle-income earners and below, that’s nothing to sneeze at, and critics of the plan worry such workers will feel browbeaten into doing the screenings.

So is this program really voluntary? What are the privacy issues here? Should employees have to report such information to their employers? Are these incentive programs working?

Deborah Peel, MD, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, a group dedicated to ensuring that Americans control all access to their health records

Helen Darling, President & CEO, National Business Group on Health, described as the nation's only non-profit organization devoted exclusively to representing large employers' perspective on national health policy issues, since 1974; CVS Caremark is a member of the National Business Group on Health

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