Employee Wellness Programs Not So Voluntary Anymore – Loss of Healthcare Freedom
Dale Arnold, who worked for Wisconsin plastics maker Flambeau, chose not to take his work-sponsored health assessment and biometric screening. The company responded by pulling his insurance coverage.
Like many employers, Flambeau uses a wellness program to cut insurance costs by encouraging healthy employee habits. In the past, submitting to on-site tests of blood pressure, body-mass, and cholesterol meant saving a few hundred dollars. Now companies such as Flambeau have gone a step farther, denying healthcare entirely to those who don’t participate. People like Arnold must instead pay for more expensive coverage through the government’s COBRA program.
According to several federal courts—including one that ruled in favor of Flambeau—this is all perfectly legal.
In a case filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. government argued that Flambeau’s wellness program didn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which limits companies from requiring medical exams or personal health information from workers. Denying employer-sponsored coverage crosses the line from voluntary to coercive, the EEOC contended.
Not so, said a federal judge in Madison, Wisc., who ruled on Dec. 31 that employers can deny coverage without violating the ADA as long as the data gleaned from the wellness program is used for purposes of overall health coverage.In this case, the screenings helped Flambeau determine the risk of its insurance pool. The EEOC says it is reviewing the decision. Samuel Bagenstos, a professor at the University of Michigan, claims the ruling turns “voluntariness” on its head.”It would make it all but impossible to enforce the voluntariness requirement for requests for medical information,” Bagenstos said. “In that sense it’s probably the wrong reading of the statute.”
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