Must I answer my employer's questions about my health?
Q. I have to fill out a questionnaire for my company’s new wellness program. Do I have to disclose my depression and slightly high cholesterol levels? I don't want to jeopardize my coverage or be forced to take drugs.
A. Yes, you do need to tell the truth when filling out this questionnaire, which is part of a wellness program designed to save you, and your employer, money on health care. But participation is optional. Your decision depends on whether you want to take advantage of the potential savings, which are currently up to 20 percent off your insurance premiums and will rise to up to 50 percent starting in 2014, or whether you’re too worried by the possible restrictions that joining might entail.
Even if it’s a results-based program, by law the company must offer alternative benchmarks to employees for whom it’s “unreasonably difficult or medically inadvisable” to meet the standard. Most doctors look at aperson’s overall risk of heart attack when prescribing cholesterol medications, which are taken for extended periods of time, may be less effective in women, and do have side effects.
Two final points. Your worry that your mental-health condition will somehow result in loss of coverage is understandable, given the myriad ways Americans can stumble into the ranks of the uninsured these days. But it’s against federal law for your group-health plan to drop you or raise your premiums because of your current health status. And the personally identifiable information you provide can be seen only by the staff who administer the wellness program. That might include an outside contractor as well as designated company employees; you have every right to ask.
—Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor