Employee wellness programs are often touted as an easy way to help workers save some money on health costs. But the AARP is contending such programs—and the information employers glean from them—also violate anti-discrimination laws.
These health-related programs or activities are offered to employees covered by employer-sponsored health plans. They might feature nutrition classes and on-site exercise, but increasingly they also include things like health assessments and biometric screenings, which allow employers to collect sensitive medical information about their employees.
It’s the latter programs that draw the AARP’s objections. The organization has filed a lawsuit against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which released new wellness program rules in May stipulating that employers could cap these incentives at 30% of an employee’s health insurance costs starting in 2017.
The AARP contends that these incentives are so high that they aren’t truly voluntary any longer, and that, according to the New York Times, “older people would have to either incur significant financial penalties or divulge medical information that once revealed, will never be confidential again.”
In essence, employees are sharing private health and genetic information because they have no other choice, given the high costs of health insurance. The AARP fears that the new rules will be especially detrimental to older workers, who may have more health issues than other workers that they don’t want their employer to know about. (Typically, employers do not deal directly with the employee health information, which is collected through a third party.)
“On average, these penalties would double or even triple those employees’ individual health insurance costs,” the AARP states in the lawsuit, AARP v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The organization is seeking a preliminary injunction, which would stop the rules from taking effect next year.