Smoking bans just the beginning: When will they come for you?

ASSOCIATED PRESS Employees of CVS are being "urged" by their bosses to submit on a "voluntary" basis personal health information or face paying $600 more for health insurance.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Employees of CVS are being "urged" by their bosses to submit on a "voluntary" basis personal health information or face paying $600 more for health insurance.
Posted: March 26, 2013

DID YOU hear the footsteps last week? Are they coming for you next?

The gargantuan CVS drugstore chain has ordered its nearly 200,000 employees to disclose personal health information - weight, height, body fat, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar - or they will have a $600 penalty added to their annual health-insurance bill.

CVS public-relations director Michael DeAngelis sees it differently, telling me that employees who take the survey will pay $600 less for health coverage.

Adding insult to injury, workers are required to sign a form that the screening is voluntary.

It's "voluntary," as in the Sarge asking Beetle Bailey to volunteer to wax the general's car or to clean latrines if he doesn't.

DeAngelis tells me that the results won't be shared with the company's health provider. Even if I believe that, why do it?

It's done for the employees' benefit, so they will know what their health picture is. That's a good idea, but why penalize employees who don't comply?

Lots of companies do it, DeAngelis says.

I am not heartened by that.

First they came for the smokers, then the trans-fat users, then the Big Gulp drinkers, then the lethargic, then the overweight . . . are you next?

Don't say you weren't warned. You were warned.

First by German pastor Martin Niemoller, in a homily about the Nazis, representing both power and evil.

"First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist." Then it moves through the trade unionists, the Jews and Catholics.

"Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me," Niemoller concludes.

In a 2005 column, I predicted that once smoking was prohibited in all workplaces, bans would be expanded to include "the streets, parks, even windswept beaches."

Employers "would not hire people who smoked, even if they smoked only on their own time, in their own homes," I wrote.

Preposterous, some told me. One earnest Bensalem reader (I'm withholding his name to avoid embarrassment) wrote a letter to the editor saying in part: "An employer is not legally allowed to fire you for doing something legal in the privacy of your own home no matter how distasteful it is in their view. They are also not allowed to exclude groups of people from being hired for the reasons you stated."

Wanna bet? They already have.

My column predicted that employers would refuse to hire smokers and fire those who already did. This has come to pass. I'm not bragging; I am saying that the overreach was predictable.

CVS' aim, it says, is to help employees get and stay healthy, but the form doesn't ask employees if they smoke, drink, do drugs, wear a seat belt or eat a dozen Krispy Kremes every day. Why not?

If employers can bully you into providing your body fat, what stops them from asking for your DNA, if your mother or father had cancer or mental problems? Hiring someone who might develop cancer or go crazy could harm the bottom line.

In case you miss the moral, the issue is not "smoking" but the way that smoking opened the door to intrusions into your rapidly disappearing personal privacy.

If you're OK with government and business sticking their noses into private affairs, remember this:

They may come for you next.


Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Columns: philly.com/Byko

Blog: philly.com/stuniversity

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