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Think Out Loud

Health Engagement Model Controversy

Pete Springer/OPB

Should you pay more for your health insurance if you’re a smoker? How about if you decline to participate in program called the Health Engagement Model (HEM) that requires submitting health information about yourself electronically? The new contract that the state hammered out with its workers involves a number of changes — including a surcharge for tobacco use and extending the free use of Weight Watchers to members’ spouses and domestic partners. But the program that’s generated thousands of concerned calls and emails to union offices is the HEM.

The requirements for the HEM are three-fold: You fill out the health survey (after which you’ll get back some health recommendations); you agree to take two health-related e-lessons like this one; and you agree to take steps to try to address your health issues. You don’t have to participate in HEM but you’ll pay $30 to $45 $20 to $35 more every month if you decline to do so.

The President of SEIU 503, Linda Burgin, says members’ concerns include objections to giving out personal information about their bodies, like their specific waist measurements; the financial incentive to participate; the security of their health information; and that the information not be used to deny them coverage in the future. The Public Employees’ Benefits Board, which is administering the program, says the information is completely secure, and that the HEM is a key way to encourage members to try to reduce their risks of chronic diseases — saving everyone’s health care dollars.

Are you a state worker? Do you plan to sign up for the HEM? Why or why not? What (else) should employers and health insurers be doing to keep costs down?


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