KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Companies May Hit New Anti-Discrimination Law When Asking Workers About Health Issues

Employers offering wellness and preventive health programs can sometimes run afoul of a new anti-discrimination law restricting their ability to ask workers about family medical histories, The Wall Street Journal reports. "Many employers offer workers cash incentives or insurance-premium reductions to fill out health surveys and some use that information to offer health advice or direct at-risk employees to disease-management programs. But the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which took effect last year, restricts employers' and health insurers' ability to collect and disclose genetic information." This restriction not only applies to genetic-test results, but family medical histories. "Some employers say the law is stymieing their efforts to promote employee wellness because it bars them from offering workers financial incentives to complete health surveys that ask about family history." In general, the law is designed to prevent "insurers and employers from using genetic information for coverage and employment decisions" (Tuna, 2/1).

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports on efforts to control obesity and promote wellness. "As more people over the last decade have tipped the scales toward obesity, normal weight folks have signed up for employee wellness programs that offer them lower premiums and other financial perks as a reward for their healthy weight -- and that indirectly penalize heavier workers. They've crafted policies, most unsuccessful, to compel individuals to lose weight. They've become vocal, sometimes vehemently so, in their support for 'sin taxes' on junk food and soda. And they've increasingly attacked, with words or actions, the overweight and obese." Among the examples cited by the Times was plan at a college in Pennsylvania to require obese students to lose weight before graduating, a proposed bill in Mississippi to let restaurants prohibit obese patrons from dining and advertising campaigns against obesity (Jameson, 2/1).

In a separate article, The Los Angeles Times reports on employers' efforts to control rising obesity rates. "Employers of the overweight and normal weight co-workers have managed to nudge overweight colleagues toward healthier behaviors, if not actual weight loss. The number of employers offering weight-management programs increased from 6% in 2006 to 25% in 2009, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2009 Annual Employee Benefits Survey." The increase, during the same time period, was even greater among among large employers (Jameson, 2/1). (KHN is a project of the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

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