My employer announced a new wellness initiative at the end of last year. If we signed up for an exciting! new! wellness! screening opportunity, our insurance premiums would stay the same. Otherwise they would go up $300.
Though I am highly skeptical of the merits of this wellness initiative--and suspicious of what my employer might eventually do with the aggregated data from the screening--I decided it wasn't worth $300 to me to protest. There are a lot of things I can do with $300, and I can object to any later developments as they come up.
The first part of the screening was an online questionnaire that I completed yesterday. I wish now that I'd written down all the questions, because they did offer an interesting snapshot of what the trendy issues in "wellness" are, and what the underlying assumptions to this screening are.
The most striking assumption was that the people being screened are not disabled. There was, for example, a question about how easy it is for you to climb stairs. The multiple-choice answer options included "Yes, I have had some difficulty with stairs" and "No, I have no difficulty with stairs," but not "No, I use a wheelchair." There was also no place in the questionnaire to put any portion of one's health history, mention any existing chronic conditions, etc. There were no questions about what medications one regularly uses, prescription or otherwise (except there was one about whether you use sleeping pills regularly). Many medications are known to cause weight gain, for example, but this screening will not find out whether a heavier person is using any of those medications.
So what does matter for "wellness," according to this questionnaire? The majority of the questions focused on exercise and eating habits, how you've felt in the last 4 weeks, and mood and anxiety issues. The exercise questions assume that you need to, and are able to, devote sustained time to exercise per day, not that your regular daily activities are physical. Some questions dealt with whether you see a doctor and dentist regularly. Even these were selective. It is important that you get your colon and your ladybits screened for cancer, for example, but no other portions of your body. Nothing on screening for skin cancer, for example, which probably more people should do. There is, overall, a rather limited definition of "wellness" here which fails to take individual variation into account.
The last set of questions asked how willing you were to make lifestyle changes. Appropriate lifestyle changes, per the questionnaire, include an exercise program, dieting, stopping smoking, and "living an overall healthy lifestyle." What does that last even mean? Note, again, that the questions did not ask whether you are ABLE to make changes. If your work schedule does not permit you to add an hour of exercise to your day, or some aspect of your health means that you simply can't, there's no way for you to tell them that here. You can only say whether you plan a change in the future, recently made a change, or don't plan any changes.
The second part of the initiative is a "biometric screening." Mine is scheduled for tomorrow morning. We'll see how this goes.