AARP sues Yale over financial penalties in workplace wellness program

Jul 17 2019

As it appeared in FierceHealthCare.com

by Paige Minemyer

AARP has filed suit against Yale University, alleging its employee wellness program forces workers to reveal sensitive health information to the college and several vendors.

Employees who receive health benefits from Yale are automatically enrolled in Health Expectations but are given the opportunity to opt in or out on a quarterly basis.

Those who do not participate in required screening test or choose to opt out of the program pay a $25 per week fee—or $1,300 for a whole year.

Required screenings include cholesterol and lipid panels, diabetes testing and cervical and colon cancer tests, depending on the member’s age.

AARP said in the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of several Yale employees, that the structure of the program is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), because revealing certain medical conditions could lead to discrimination based on health history.

About 5,000 workers are subject to the program, AARP said.

“This is a particularly important issue for older workers, who are more likely to have disabilities and medical conditions—such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer—that are at risk of being revealed by wellness questionnaires and exams,” AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson said in a statement.

“And it hits low-income workers the hardest. Allowing employers to financially coerce workers into relinquishing their personal health information is a clear violation of medical privacy and civil rights protections,” she said.

This isn’t the first time AARP has asked the courts to intervene in the design of workplace wellness programs. In 2017, the group won a suit challenging guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that would allow employers to levy penalties for nonparticipation.

AARP’s suit challenging financial penalties comes as several recent studies throw cold water on the clinical benefits of workplace wellness programs. Employees want and expect these benefits, but many are not using them—and evidence that they’re improving health is scant, studies show.

For example, a study published in April in the Journal of the American Medical Association found self-reported health behaviors did not increase substantially among workers who had access to a wellness program when compared to employees that did not.

Employers are committed to these programs, however. A recent survey from the National Business Group on Health found that large employers intend to spend $3.6 million this year on wellness initiatives.

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