Going Public With Private Information

Private. The definition in the Miriam-Webster Dictionary includes the words “not public.” Hmmmmm…..seems that part of the definition may soon need to be tweaked a bit when it comes to your private health information.

According to a recent article in the online news publication Quartz, “If companies like Johnson & Johnson, IBM, and PepsiCo get their way, millions of American workers will see their private health information become public knowledge.” The story goes on to say:

“The concept isn’t new, but it got a big push last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Vitality Group, a company that designs corporate health promotion programs, unveiled a proposal for publicly held companies to start reporting employees’ health information to investors and other corporate stakeholders. Body Mass Index (BMI), smoking status, anxiety and stress levels, and other health-related data would be anonymized, aggregated, and analyzed to give investors a different kind of snapshot of the company’s health.”

Proponents claim the rationale is to provide investors, managers, and consumers with a look at the overall health and wellness of a company’s employees. Even though it is widely believed that health information will be presented anonymously and companies won’t single out individual employees or small groups of employees – a report in StatNews.com claims that may not be the case across the board. The story had this to say about Discovery Ltd., a South Africa-based financial services organization.

“In a report last year, Discovery noted that the proportion of overweight employees — those deemed “at risk” due to high body mass index — rose from 58 percent to 60 percent. The Discovery report also details results from the company’s “10 Ton Challenge,” listing which departments lost the most weight.”

The troubling piece to some is that the results were listed by department. James Zervios, a vice president at the Obesity Action Coalition is quoted in the story as saying, “It does inadvertently put a target on employees’ backs who are dealing with obesity.”

Some companies believe this information is critical to lowering health care costs. What do you think? Is this information fair game or is it going too far? Weighing in on key health issues will help us better understand what others in our state are thinking, and that understanding is critical to our goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!

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