It’s time to take a fresh look at the health questionnaires you hand out to employees as part of your
New federal regulations that prohibit discrimination against people with congenital medical conditions mean employers and health benefits providers must immediately review health risk assessments (HRAs) to make sure they don’t ask employees to reveal protected information.
The rules could hinder the effectiveness of wellness benefits programs that try to identify employees’ potential health problems and then prescribe preventive measures.
The regulations were published in October by the departments of Labor, Treasury and Health & Human Services—the three agencies in charge of enforcing the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). The rules apply to plan years beginning on or after Dec. 7, 2009.
No more HRA incentives
The new regulations also forbid employers from offering incentives to employees to complete HRAs that ask about family medical histories.
For HR professionals, this means an end to paying employees or offering them discounts to participate in HRAs that request family medical information.
For example, it’s now illegal to cut premiums or deductibles for employees who agree to fill out questionnaires that ask whether relatives have had cancer, heart disease or diabetes.
According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, 64% of employers currently offer such incentives for employees to complete HRAs, a practice that was steadily increasing … until now.
Industry experts agree that having access to family medical information can help insurers promote better employee health. But GINA was enacted specifically to prohibit group health plans from using genetic information to screen out policyholders who might wind up incurring high medical expenses.
“Today’s genetic technologies yield data that are vital to helping Americans make personal, medical decisions,” said Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis. “It is essential that we protect such information and ensure it is not misused by health plans or insurers.”
What employers should do
As a practical matter, the new rules mean plan sponsors must:
- Review their HRAs and any associated wellness policies to ensure they comply with GINA’s prohibition on collecting genetic information.
- Make sure wellness and health programs don’t use genetic information to screen employees for eligibility.
Your health insurance carrier or wellness plan provider can help make sure you are in compliance, but employers could still be liable—and forced to pay as much as $50,000 for each violation. If in doubt, consult your attorney.
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
Effective date: Nov. 21, 2009, for employment provisions.
Summary: GINA prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against employees or job applicants in hiring, firing, compensation or any other terms of employment based on information about the person's genetic tests or the history of disease in family members. The law prohibits employers from requesting or requiring employees' genetic info.
Online resource: www.genome.gov/10002328.
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