It can seem a little intrusive to get a health risk assessment from your employer. These questionnaires may ask for a wide variety of information about your health habits, and they’re becoming increasingly common: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 19 percent of companies that offer health insurance use health risk assessments, while 50 percent of companies with more than 200 employees do.
Companies that collect this information do so to improve health and lower health care costs, and there are legal requirements they must follow to prevent identification of individual people. These assessments may take the form of self-reported questionnaires or biometric screenings performed by a health care professional. Here’s what you need to know.
What Information Is Collected?
These assessments and screenings vary by employer or insurance provider. The assessments are meant to screen for behaviors that could increase health costs in the long run. They may ask you about your height and weight, chronic illnesses, tobacco use, exercise and nutrition habits, and so on. Employers generally avoid questions about family history to avoid violating the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
Samantha Lambert, director of human resources at Blue Fountain Media, says her company performs an employee census each year to collect standard census information. The company combines it with a survey on current benefits offered and general questions about wellness initiatives in employees’ lives, such as how they would like to improve their health and what their short- and long-term health goals are. “This all helps to improve employee engagement and satisfaction,” she says.
What Happens to the Data?
Employers use wellness data to determine what benefits and health initiatives are best suited for their employees, Lambert says. Employers look at the data as a whole to identify trends and best values. “The data is used to help decide and influence what levels of group coverage make most sense to offer as well as other wellness benefits, such as a bike-to-work program or flu shots.”
Is It Private?
Employers often will partner with health insurance carriers to collect and analyze information, says HR consultant James Celentano, and the carriers only share aggregated information with the employer. In addition, rules under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and the Affordable Care Act help ensure health information is protected. Companies that self-insure must create a firewall to keep information anonymous.
At Blue Fountain Media, surveys are always anonymous and absolutely nothing can be followed back to one particular employee, Lambert says. The company uses a compliance and personal security tech solution to keep everything confidential and encrypted.
What Are the Results?
People who participate in wellness programs and follow proven wellness guidelines can end up paying less for health insurance. When employees engage in wellness programs, their potential claims tend to go down, Celentano says, and healthier is obviously better. “Over time these initiatives lower medical loss ratios for insurers, which lead to lowered or slowed growth in insurance premiums for employers, and lower contributions paid by employees.”