Biometric Screening Privacy Danger

If you have group health insurance through your employer, I encourage you to please read this topic word for word!

If you cherish and value your rights of privacy in the health care setting as an American, you need to read this topic word for word. After all, we cherish our right to keep our personal health information private and out of prying eyes.

A Trend in the Workplace: The Employer Wellness Program

In order to help curtail the rising cost of health insurance, more and more employers are creating wellness programs within the workplace. You've heard about them from time to time: It's those so-called employee wellness programs that are put on by your employer so that you can stay healthy; after all, your employer wants to maintain a healthy workplace so to speak.

The purpose of those employer wellness programs is simple: Your employer's Human Resources Department (HR for short) more than likely has on staff a wellness coordinator to oversee the wellness activities within your workplace. The job of the wellness coordinator - as well as the purpose of these wellness programs - is to lure you, the employee, into a conference room conveniently located to where your desk or cubicle is located for a chock full of health and wellness information such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, stuff on diabetes prevention, maintaining a healthy blood pressure, and much, much more.

In fact, some wellness events will bring in a health paraprofessional to conduct screenings for diseases such as blood pressure checks, blood glucose screenings for diabetes, and a lot more as well. The purpose of these events is to apparently empower you with what you need to know to stay healthy - at your company's expense.

Employer Wellness Programs and Your Health Insurance at Work

There is a lot more beyond the wellness events put on by your employer periodically throughout the year. With the advent of Health Care Reform (a/k/a Obamacare) we are seeing more and more wellness programs tied into employer sponsored health insurance. Sure, with Obamacare your insurer cannot charge you more for getting sick but there's a catch: You can be charged more for having a risky lifestyle.

Here's a trend that is becoming more and more popular with employer sponsored health insurance: The high deductible health plan, where you pay a significantly less premium but you have to pay more on deductibles. However, in order to help you meet the high deductibles your employer will more than likely fund a health savings account to help you with these deductibles.

Now how much does your employer fund your health savings account? Good question! The following is from what I recently read on one high deductible health plan:

  • Mere enrollment in the high deductible health plan: $250.
  • Complete a healthy lifestyle attestation: $150.
  • Complete an online health assessment: $200.
  • Submit yourself (and your spouse, if covered) to a biometric screening: $250.

A Potential Privacy Invading Trend: The Biometric Screening

A increasingly disturbing trend of these wellness programs is the biometric screening, where you are screened for several factors such as your blood pressure and blood glucose level among them. In fact, what makes these biometric screenings more disturbing is that if you fail to participate, you will pay more for your health insurance or be penalized somewhere; the so-called "penalties" can range to paying extra for health insurance out of your paycheck to downright being terminated if the pre-existing condition is found out, even though termination for pre-existing conditions is illegal per the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Can these biometric screenings be used against you? Potentially yes! You will be surprised:

1. Your employer's health insurance carrier. The results of the biometric screening are not only kept by your health insurance carrier, the results are also reported to the Medical Information Bureau, which can pose serious problems for you if you decide to apply for life insurance at a later time. (And we're talking life insurance where you are subject to underwriting criteria).

Good to know: The typical health care claim is reviewed by at least four different staff members with your health insurer, if not more, before your claim is paid. Then it goes on your permanent health record once the claim is paid. Talk about HIPAA and medical records privacy? This is why some doctors do not take insurance, basically for this same reason. Once you are diagnosed with a serious health condition such as Type 2 Diabetes for instance, welcome to a lifetime of intrusive reminders - emails, letters and phone calls from your healthcare insurer.

2. The Medical Information Bureau is a specialty consumer reporting agency in that records are kept on millions of Americans as to their health conditions. If you decide to apply for life insurance as mentioned earlier, or if you submit a claim for benefits such as health insurance benefits, your record at the Medical Information Bureau comes into play here.

3. Your employer can use the information from the biometric screening against you as well. Despite the privacy protections in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, commonly known as HIPAA, the information from the biometric screening somehow makes it to your employer. After all, it is your employer paying a huge chunk of your health insurance bill (and you paying your share out of your paycheck).

4. Now this is very important, especially if you are approaching the golden years of retirement:

Suppose you went and got that biometric screening in order to cut your health insurance bill and/or avoid additional premiums deducted from your paycheck. The results of that biometric screening show that you have a serious medical condition - let's say Type 2 Diabetes as an example - and a nurse practitioner has counseled you. You are in your last few years of employment and you are looking forward to retirement. As such, it's been reported to your health insurer and the diagnosis went on your permanent health record.

If in the event - later down the road when you are enjoying your golden years of retirement - a petition for guardianship is ever filed against you, a three person committee called the examining committee is ordered by the judge for the purpose of examining the alleged incapacitated person. This three person committee consists of a physician, a psychiatrist and a lay person such as a social worker.

In Florida, two petitions start the guardianship process as defined in Chapter 744 of the Florida Statutes: Petition to Determine Capacity and Petition for Appointment of Guardian. More dangerously, in Florida anyone can file a petition for guardianship.

As part of the duties of the examining committee, it (as well as the attorneys that filed the guardianship) can subpoena your health records - not only from your own physician but from your healthcare insurer as well as the Medical Information Bureau - and use the health records against you in determining whether you should be adjudicated incapacitated. On the examining committee report form that is given to the judge, there are two questions related to records: Use of prior clinical history and treatment as well as psychological/social records and reports. This is where your medical records (especially those medical records that contain that Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis uncovered (as an example) thanks to that biometric screening you took) can come into play in a guardianship proceeding.

Remember, once you or your loved one is adjudicated incompetent, the legal status changes from being an adult to a ward. Imagine a total stranger - a/k/a professional guardian - in control of all of your everyday activities - having your right to vote taken away from you, having your Florida Driver License taken away from you, being unable to seek and/or retain employment, being unable to freely travel anywhere, and being taken out of your home and placed in an Assisted Living Facility (ALF) or, worse, a nursing home (often times of the secured kind) - all because of the results of a biometric screening that you submitted to with your employer.

On another note, beware of social workers lurking around the corner in the hospital, especially the ER. If you or your loved one - particularly someone who is older - goes to the ER for a seemingly minor ailment, that friendly social worker lurking around the corner could be actually developing a case against you to have a guardianship petition filed. Not only the two petitions that commence a guardianship case are filed, usually by a religious based social services agency in which the hospital's social worker works with, but another petition which fast tracks the person straight into guardianship, the emergency petition for appointment of guardian, is filed.

Speaking of the emergency petition for appointment of guardian, it is usually used when there is no one around that can make an important medical decision such as a relative. I have read up on abuses of the emergency guardianship petition so that professional guardians can get a head start on seizing control over a person and his or her assets.

5. If you are taking any prescription medications for a serious medical condition you have, don't think your prescription history is private. There is a company out there called Milliman that has a prescription history product called IntelliScript, and if you decide to apply for life insurance your prospective insurer can check this database to see if you have a serious medical condition - this time, by what medications you are taking.

And we can't forget the FICO Medication Adherence Score, brought to you by the same people that bring you your credit score. It is a numeric score that tells anyone how you adhere to your doctor's treatment protocol including taking the medications you are prescribed. According to this New York Times article low scores mean intrusive counseling and reminders by your pharmacist.

Like the information that your health care insurer and the Medical Information Bureau have on you, the information that Milliman's IntelliScript prescription database as well as your FICO Medication Adherence Score can be legally disclosed if your health records are subpoenaed as part of a legal proceeding, especially in a guardianship case if the three person examining committee conducting an inquisition of your personal affairs wants to take a look at these records. I know, this is not related to biometric screenings but I threw the information in on prescription histories just to illustrate the privacy dangers you face when it comes to your personal health information.

If you want proof that your medical records can be potentially obtained in a guardianship proceeding, look at your insurer's Notice of Privacy Practices. Your health insurer is obligated to let you know of this every year that you have health insurance, whether it is individual or group health insurance. You can find a copy of the Notice of Privacy Practices on your insurer's website.

Glance through the notice and pay particular attention to the section about where your insurer can use or share your personal health information. There are a lot of items where your insurer can use or share your personal health information; the one item you need to be concerned about is for judicial or administrative proceedings. Simply put, if your health insurer is served with a court order, a summons or a subpoena asking for your medical records, your insurer is legally obligated to comply with that request.

Same thing with your physician, hospital or even the Medical Information Bureau. If these entities are served with a court order or subpoena asking for your medical records, these entities are legally obligated to comply with that request.

So, these are things that you should know about before you submit yourself or a loved one to a biometric screening conducted by your employer. You value the privacy of your health condition and the records of your health care, and it is your right. A discussion of your personal health conditions should stay within your own doctor's office, and your primary care doctor is the one that knows your health condition.

Edward Ringwald's Take on Employer Sponsored Wellness Programs

In my opinion, these Employer Sponsored Wellness Programs should be renamed Employer Sponsored Sickness Programs. These programs uncover a serious medical condition you may have or think to have and to recommend a treatment program for your discovered sickness. A lot of these programs infringe on your privacy, particularly your medical privacy.

After all, your personal health conditions are none of your employer's business. I cannot over-emphasize this enough: This is something for you to think about before you submit yourself to an employer sponsored biometric screening.