Bioethics Blogs

How Much Should Your Boss and the U.S. Department of Labor Know About Your Opioid Prescription History?

As the
price of health care and uncertainty about health insurance coverage increases,
employers are taking more of an interest in their employees’ health. Indeed,
this is not a new trend as the United States health insurance system has been
employment-based since its creation. However, this trend may seem more
justifiable when the federal government also takes an interest in employees’
health.  From a public health
perspective, monitoring a society’s health is very important but it must be
balanced against the individual’s privacy interest as well as the harms and
benefits of that monitoring. There is also the issue of who/what is the most
appropriate entity to be doing the monitoring.

On June
27, 2017,
the
United States Department of Labor announced
it
will officially be
monitoring
use of opioid prescriptions by workers
under the
Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, which is the law surrounding the worker’s
compensation system.  The announcement
expressed a safety concern based on overdoses and addiction of opioids in the
midst of our current opioid crisis.

When an
employee files a worker’s compensation claim,
the
employer must be notified
and the employer
has access to the health records included in that claim
.
The employer’s access to health records is limited to whatever is included in
the claim and is justified based on the premise that the employer has an
interest in the worker’s compensation claim. However, this new monitoring
system means that an employer will now have access to its employees’ opioid
prescription history, as this is information the U.S. Department of Labor will
be monitoring as part of the worker’s compensation process.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.