05 July 2013

The Privacy Dangers of Biometric Screenings

As we celebrate America's 237th year of independence I got to see the annual 4th of July fireworks display over at Channelside, a shopping and dining mecca located next to the cruise port terminal in downtown Tampa just east of the St. Pete Times (Tampa Bay Times) Forum.  I decided to take in the fireworks display at Channelside after several years viewing the 4th of July fireworks in downtown St. Petersburg for a change.
After all, change is good when you want to see the fireworks at a different place.  Besides, downtown St. Petersburg is not the same without its iconic signature trademark, the St. Petersburg Pier, which recently closed this past Memorial Day weekend in May 2013.  However, the future of the St. Petersburg Pier is up to the voters of the City of St. Petersburg which will be on the 27 August 2013 ballot as a referendum question.
If you cherish and value your rights of privacy in the health care setting as an American, you need to read this blog entry word for word.  In an earlier blog entry I spoke my opinion on employer sponsored wellness programs.  A increasingly disturbing trend of these wellness programs is the biometric screening, where you are screened for several factors such as your blood pressure and blood glucose level among them.  In fact, what makes these biometric screenings more disturbing is that if you fail to participate, you will pay more for your health insurance or be penalized somewhere; I have read based on my research online that employers can go to extremes such as terminating your employment - all because of pre-existing health conditions you may have had.
Now how can these biometric screenings be used against you?  You will be surprised.
1.  Your employer's health insurance carrier.  The results of the biometric screening are not only kept by your health insurance carrier, the results are also reported to the Medical Information Bureau, which can pose serious problems for you if you decide to apply for life insurance at a later time.
2.  The Medical Information Bureau is a specialty consumer reporting agency in that records are kept on millions of Americans as to their health conditions.  If you decide to apply for life insurance as I mentioned earlier, or if you submit a claim for benefits such as health insurance benefits, your record at the Medical Information Bureau comes into play here.
3.  Your employer can use the information from the biometric screening against you as well.  Despite the privacy protections in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, commonly known as HIPAA, the information from the biometric screening somehow makes it to your employer.  After all, it is your employer paying a huge chunk of your health insurance bill (and you paying your share out of your paycheck).
4.  Now this is very important, and I mentioned this in my earlier blog entry on employer sponsored wellness programs:
Suppose you went and got that biometric screening in order to cut your health insurance bill deducted from your paycheck.  The results of that biometric screening show that you have a serious medical condition and a nurse practitioner has counseled you.
If in the event - later down the road - a petition for guardianship is ever filed against you, a three person committee called the examining committee is ordered by the judge for the purpose of examining the person whose capacity is in question.  This three person committee consists of a physician, a psychiatrist and a lay person such as a social worker.

In Florida, two petitions start the guardianship process as defined in Chapter 744 of the Florida Statutes:  Petition to Determine Capacity and Petition for Appointment of Guardian.
As part of the duties of the examining committee, it can subpoena your health records - not only from your own physician but from your employer's insurance company as well as the Medical Information Bureau - and use the health records against you in determining whether you should be adjudicated incompetent.
Remember, once you or your loved one is adjudicated incompetent, the legal status changes from being an adult to a ward.  Imagine a total stranger in control of all of your everyday activities - having your right to vote taken away from you, having your Florida Driver License taken away from you, being unable to seek and/or retain employment, and being taken out of your home and placed in an Assisted Living Facility (ALF) - all because of the results of a biometric screening that you submitted to with your employer.
Additionally, beware of social workers lurking around the corner in the hospital, especially the ER.  If you or your loved one - particularly someone who is older - goes to the ER for a seemingly minor ailment, that social worker lurking around the corner could be developing a case against you to have a guardianship petition filed.  Not only the two petitions that commence a guardianship case are filed, usually by a religious based social services agency in which the hospital's social worker works with, but another petition which fast tracks the person straight into guardianship, the emergency petition for appointment of guardian, is filed.
Speaking of the emergency petition for appointment of guardian, it is usually used when there is no one around that can make an important medical decision such as a relative.  I have read up on abuses of the emergency guardianship petition so that professional guardians can get a head start on seizing control over a person and his or her assets.
5.  If you are taking any prescription medications for a serious medical condition you have, don't think your prescription history is private.  There is a company out there called Milliman that has a prescription history product called IntelliScript, and if you decide to apply for life insurance your prospective insurer can check this database to see if you have a serious medical condition - this time, by what medications you are taking.

And we can't forget the FICO Medication Adherence Score, brought to you by the same people that bring you your credit score.  It is a numeric score that tells anyone how you adhere to your doctor's treatment protocol including taking the medications you are prescribed.

Like the information that your health care insurer and the Medical Information Bureau have on you, the information that Milliman's IntelliScript prescription database as well as your FICO Medication Adherence Score can be legally disclosed if your health records are subpoenaed as part of a legal proceeding, especially in a guardianship case if the three person examining committee conducting an inquisition of your personal affairs wants to take a look at these records.  I know, this is not related to biometric screenings but I threw the information in on prescription histories just to illustrate the privacy dangers you face when it comes to your personal health information.

So, these are things that you should know about before you submit yourself or a loved one to a biometric screening conducted by your employer.  You value the privacy of your health condition and the records of your health care, and it is your right.  A discussion of your personal health conditions should stay within your own doctor's office, and your primary care doctor is the one that knows your health condition.
After all, your personal health conditions are none of your employer's business.  I cannot over-emphasize this enough:  This is something for you to think about before you submit yourself to an employer sponsored biometric screening.

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