AARP Opposes Employer Invasion of Medical Privacy

UPDATE (5/16/2016): AARP is deeply disappointed with the new EEOC rules on workplace wellness programs. Read our press release.

file folders with Patient Health Records label and Confidential stamp

With election season in full force, much of the work inside Washington is flying under the radar. While Congress remains deeply divided, there continues to be action on the regulatory front.

One such development should be a real attention grabber: a proposed Obama administration rule that would allow an employer’s workplace wellness program to require you and your family to hand over your medical and genetic information, or face paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars more for your health insurance.

Workers (and their spouses) who don’t want to turn over their personal information could be subject to penalties up to 30 percent of the total cost of the health coverage in which the worker is enrolled. The average total premium for family health coverage in 2015 was $17,545, with employees footing the bill for about $5,100 of that. If the new rule goes through, employers would be allowed to charge their workers a whopping $5,264 more for family health insurance — on top of the more than $5,000 they already contribute toward family coverage, on average — if they don’t provide sensitive family medical information.

Is this legal?? Not yet. But it soon may be. Currently, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) both make it an act of employment discrimination for an employer’s workplace wellness program to require or request that employees fill out medical questionnaires or submit to medical exams, unless participation in the wellness program is voluntary. Even when a worker voluntarily discloses sensitive health information, the law requires employers to safeguard the privacy of that information.

But now, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) — the federal agency that is charged with protecting civil rights — has proposed a rule that essentially would redefine “voluntary.” Being charged thousands of dollars more for something as indispensable as health insurance doesn’t sound very “voluntary” to most people.

What may be worse is that many of these unregulated wellness programs are mostly data-mining operations — that collect and share your medical information — with little evidence that they actually produce healthier employees. And of course, any time sensitive personal information is online, there is an increased risk of hacking.

AARP fought hard for health reform that no longer allows discrimination against those with health conditions, and to make health insurance more affordable for the millions of older workers who need it. Older workers are more likely to have the kinds of invisible disabilities (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer) that are often targeted by wellness programs — but workers may not want to disclose this information to their employer for fear of discrimination.

AARP believes it’s just plain wrong to penalize people’s privacy and civil rights to withhold their personal medical and genetic information. Personal privacy should not be the exclusive domain of workers with salaries high enough to afford large financial penalties.

The EEOC should immediately withdraw and reissue this proposed rule consistent with the current protections afforded under the ADA and GINA.

David Certner is the legislative counsel and legislative policy director for government affairs at AARP. Follow him on Twitter @DavidCertner for the latest updates on what’s happening in Washington on the issues that matter most to older Americans.



Search AARP Blogs

Related Posts
December 11, 2018 10:07 AM
In an election year filled with partisanship and political fights, it’s no surprise that many Americans feel that their voices aren’t being heard or that the issues that affect their lives aren’t being addressed. But, many outstanding elected officials work hard every day to make a positive difference for their constituents.  That’s why AARP recognizes state legislators, governors, and other elected officials – from both sides of the aisle – who have stepped up and worked together to write, support, and advance common-sense policies that help older Americans remain in their homes and communities and retire with confidence. AARP is proud to announce our fifth annual bipartisan class of Capitol Caregivers, who fought this year to increase support for family caregivers and their loved ones, along with our fourth annual bipartisan class of Super Savers, who championed policies that enhance retirement security.
December 05, 2018 01:06 PM
Caroline is a mother of two children and a preschool teacher who unexpectedly became a family caregiver for her father after he suffered a major stroke. Her father, Tom, now deceased, lost the use of his right side and his ability to speak. Multiple surgeries and rehabilitation treatments later, he was able to live at home with the help of nurses. But it was up to Caroline to provide daily care, such as overseeing appointments and handling certain nursing responsibilities, like managing his medications. “I became the person my father could rely on more than anyone in the world,” Caroline said. “I became his safe place and his best friend.” In communities across the country, family caregivers like Caroline are caring for older parents, spouses and other loved ones, helping them to remain at home – where they want to be. Their tasks are done out of love and commitment, but are not easy. That’s why AARP is fighting for family caregivers and their loved ones in every state. In 2018, AARP advanced new policies to provide more help at home, flexibility at work, training, relief and more, which will benefit over 30 million family caregivers. Here are a couple highlights:
November 27, 2018 08:55 AM
A few months ago, I wrote a blog about the vital role that transportation options play in what we at AARP call “livable communities” – great places to live for people of all ages. Being able to get around is critical to earn a living, raise a family, contribute and stay connected to your community and enjoy life. And, having alternatives to getting behind the wheel of your own car is particularly important for older adults who want to stay in their homes and communities as they age.