Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace

CVS to Penalize Workers Who Don't Fork Over Personal Health Information

Privacy advocates say the pharmacy giant is crossing the line.

CVS Pharmacy announced a plan to coerce employees into handing over personal health information in an effort to offset rising healthcare costs. The nationwide chain says employees have until May 1, 2014 to dish out their weight, body fat, blood pressure, glucose levels and other private details to the company—or else face a $600 annual fine.

Privacy advocates say the policy is inhumane, adding that this could lead CVS, which employs 200,000 Americans, to fire less healthy workers to minimize costs related to health insurance. Patient Privacy Rights founder Dr. Deborah Peel called it “technology-enhanced discrimination on steroids” in an interview with ABC News.

“The approach they’re taking is based on the assumption that somehow these people need a whip, they need to be penalized in order to make themselves healthy,” Patient Privacy Rights founder Dr. Deborah Peel told ABC News.

CVS said no one from the company would see its employees’ private information. Instead, a third party will review health reports and offer recommendations to the pharmacy giant. That doesn’t satisfy consumer Michelle Garcia, who told Dallas’ CBS affiliate that she “would be upset with that because you’re kind of forced to give them personal information about yourself and about your lifestyle and about how you choose to live your life.”

“Our benefits program is evolving to help our colleagues engage more actively to improve their health and manage health-associated costs,” CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis said in a statement, “An initial step to accomplish this goal is a health screening and wellness review so that colleagues know their key health metrics in order to take action to improve their overall health, if necessary.”

But others have pointed out that CVS has put its low-wage workers in a bind, forced to choose between health privacy and a hefty chunk of their salary. The $600 annual fine, or $50 a month, will hit especially hard for CVS’ low-income workforce. As Think Progress’ Annie-Rose Strasser notes:

A minimum wage worker putting in a 40-hour workweek makes about $1,160 a month. A fine of $50 a month is a huge amount for a minimum wage CVS employee to fork over … especially given the fact that American workers’ health care costs are rising while their wages are stagnating.

CVS CEO Larry Merlo’s salary increased 33 percent last year, from $12 million in 2011 to $18 million in 2012.

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.