Knock On Wood —
One year ago from yesterday, I sounded the alarm on a new “wellness program” at CVS Pharmacy, wherein employees must participate in a “voluntary” health screening where they must disclose their personal health information, including weight and sexual activity, or else face increased insurance premiums. Shortly thereafter, Michelin Tires announced a similar punitive, but “voluntary wellness program.”
I encouraged people to join a boycott, as well as call and write CVS executives, but that went nowhere. But today, there’s finally some action being taken that may put an end to the practice once and for all: a civil lawsuit.
CVS cashier Roberta Watterson claims the company made her disclose personal information, including her weight and level of sexual activity, threatening to charge her $600 a year if she refused… Though Watterson’s suit highlights the privacy concerns raised by employer health screenings, her more pressing claim in the suit is that CVS should compensate her for the cost of the health screening as well as the gas she used to travel to the doctor and the free time she spent getting tested. The suit is seeking class-action status.
I’m not entirely convinced that this lawsuit will be the death knell for coercive employee wellness programs, especially since our judicial system seems to favor the interests of corporations and wealthy Americans above individuals. Companies are given incredible latitude to practice business as they see fit and employee privacy is practically a joke any more. So the idea that employers can, and should, keep tabs on what was once deeply-personal health information between a patient and doctor, is not surprising at all. What’s bizarre, though, is the motivation.
CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis wrote to Huffington Post and said, “Our employee health benefits plan complies with all applicable laws. By knowing their blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose numbers, as well as other potential health risks, our colleagues are empowered to work toward or maintain healthy behaviors that can lower their overall health care costs.”
The implication is that without CVS interfering, their employees wouldn’t know their blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose numbers, and therefore would not be empowered to engage in healthy behaviors. DeAngelis goes on to assure us that the records are kept private and that CVS management has no access to those records. Then what is the point of having them?
If the whole point of the program is to make employees aware of their health status, and not to micromanage their lifestyles, let alone discriminate against unhealthy employees, then why not simply provide free coverage for wellness checkups with the employee’s doctor? I mean, awareness of your blood pressure is great, but improving your health outcomes requires an ongoing relationship with your doctor, not a one-time visit to an corporate-sponsored physician, so that you can monitor those health indicators over time. Simply having a baseline set of information on current health status does neither the employee nor the examining physician any good.
It’s this kind of invasive corporate oversight, and the collective shrug society gives in response to it, that makes me skeptical of libertarianism. Conservative outrage over Obamacare revolves partially around privacy and the belief that the government will be all up in our business when it comes to our health choices. Of course, that same outrage dissipates when you ask libertarians if corporations should have similar oversight of our health.
The same goes for spying. There’s been a lot of hand-wringing and pearl-clutching over the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, but virtual silence on the ubiquitous practice of corporate surveillance because, as this Washington Post article tries to paint it, you can “opt out” of corporate spying by boycotting those who collect data about you, unlike government spying. Of course, this ignores the fact that much of the data collected on you by corporations is done by parties you aren’t even aware of and is sold to other companies without your awareness, let alone consent.
But in the case of corporate health oversight, there is the potential risk that unhealthy employees may be fired to save money on insurance. Employers should have ZERO say in our personal health choices. None. As I mentioned in my previous post, the skyrocketing costs of healthcare is due to healthcare companies gouging our for-profit system, not worse outcomes from fatter Americans.
By allowing CVS to pry into their employees’ health choices, we are essentially shifting responsibility for a dysfunctional healthcare system to consumers, rather than the corporate profiteering that drives higher prices. We’re abdicating our right to privacy by saying, “Obviously companies should monitor employee health because they’re providing health insurance.” I’m happy to say, though, that at least this kind of health oversight is still pretty rare among companies, I would imagine due to the animosity it builds in their employees.
My hope is that CVS will see just how misbegotten their intentions are and switch back to a reward-based system of encouraging healthy behaviors, rather than the coercive approach they’re forcing now. And perhaps this lawsuit is the first step in helping them see the error of their ways. I wish Ms. Watterson all the best on her lawsuit and I will be sure to update you all on any results that come from it.