Friday, March 5, 2010

Population Health Management

As someone who lived in Wisconsin for 3 years, "population health management" sounds like issuing licenses to hunters to shoot deer. As applied to people, however, the hunt in population health management is for behavioral causes of disease within a population, and then identifying strategies to prevent the disease. Sounds harmless enough. To find the diseases and causes does require aggregating personal information of people within the population, raising some objections.

In Buck Consultants 2009 survey, several employers engaged in "managing wellness" announced 2 vision statements that are remarkable, especially since the trend has been for employers to shift away from defined benefits and towards defined contribution plans. Perhaps this shift is not indicative of an overall decrease in taking responsibility for employees' healthcare.

  • “valuing employees’ health as much as their intellectual knowledge”
  • “our vision is to make people feel better than they ever thought possible"
No doubt each of these statements will include qualifications and disclaimers of liability prior to becoming actual policy. Indeed, finalized corporate HR policies are often difficult to discern due to the care that is taken to avoid offense. If the above statements really do become the core of health benefits policy, it is worth considering the implications in the context of privacy and anti-discrimination regulations.  

Valuing employees' health seems to give the employer the right incentives during the course of the employment relationship, but the hiring and termination decisions are also implicitly impacted by valuing employees' health. With average employment tenure approaching just 3 years, firing and hiring happens a lot.  While various regulations protect employees in the hiring and firing process, those regulations cannot reach secret motives. In this case, the employer is making its preference for the health of its employees explicit. Careful wording of such preferences will be required to steer clear of privacy and ADA issues here.

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