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Health test for insurance coverage

To stem rising health care costs, companies are pushing for health assessment tests. Should you share this personal information?

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Let's start with what a health assessment actually is. It's an online questionnaire with 25 - 80 questions that over half of companies are giving to employees according to a recent study by Aon Consulting. The information is collected by a third party.

The idea here is that workers' health issues can be identified earlier, and the company would be able to develop wellness plans that would lower their insurance costs.

You may be asked for information related to your diet, exercise habits, your blood pressure/cholesterol or whether you smoke. This year you won't be asked about your family history since a new law takes effect in December.

We know a lot of people will have concerns that if they reveal bad habits, they could be dropped from their health insurance, or have to pay higher premiums.

Don't worry, neither your manager nor your insurer will know what kind of couch potato you are, or how many Twinkies you polish off in one sitting. In fact, they won't see your personal information at all. The data is compiled into an aggregate report. The only thing your employer may see is the percentage of its employees that are overweight, overstressed or smoke.

So, while it's unlikely you'll be caught if you lie on your assessment, it's in your best interest to answer it honestly. HIPAA law -- that stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act -- prevents that information from being released to your insurer or employer according to Nancy Metcalf of Consumer Reports.

So what kind of payoff can you expect for filling out one of these assessment tests?

It used to be that you would get a trinket, like a T-shirt, or maybe a few bucks for filling out the questionnaire. But more employers are upping the ante -- offering lowered insurance premiums and co-pays if you take advantage of wellness programs says Debi Heck of Aon Consulting.

Other employers may implement different policies based on the assessment results -- like making the company grounds smoke-free or increasing the price of high-fat cafeteria fare. A few companies have even denied health insurance to workers who don't fill out these forms.

-- CNN's Jen Haley contributed to this article.

Talkback: Why would/wouldn't you fill out a health risk assessment test? To top of page

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