Thursday, November 08, 2007

Dumb health assessment questions 

As part of my enrollment in benefits for SCSU I was given the opportunity to fill out a health assessment through my employer, the state. There's a bribe for this -- I get a lower co-pay for office visits if I fill this out and receive a phone call from a health counselor. I evaluated the costs and benefits before I decided to proceed.

The questions are quite personal, to be expected, and included questions about whether I smoke or ever have. I'll reveal those answers to you: I smoked cigarettes in my twenties and then quit when I bought a bicycle and found I couldn't breathe after six miles. Ten years later I took up a pipe for a year but hated the fussiness. For the last ten, I've enjoyed 2-3 cigars a week on average (more in summer, less in winter, as I smoke outdoors.) All of this was in the assessment, and I do not mind those questions, given I was agreeing to this in return for a payment.

Then came these three questions:
Are you exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke more than once a week for 30 minutes or longer?
( )Yes
( )No

During the past 7 days, how many days did anyone smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes anywhere inside your home?
[ ] Days

In the past 7 days, has anyone smoked near you in your work area, a bar, or restaurant?
( )Yes
( )No
The first question is of dubious concern; is there any reason to believe that being some place for 30 minutes where someone else smoked is a risk for my health? Long run exposure perhaps, but thirty minutes? Do the other questions are even more bizarre. Remember, someone is going to call and counsel me on health as a result of my responses; do they intend to tell me to stay away from smokers? Throw them out of my house? Or do they intend to scandalize being present around smokers?

And of course in Minnesota, the last question asks whether I have witnessed an illegal activity. Again, the state is asking me to answer this question for a lower co-pay on my health insurance (yes, I know, the state health plan I am in is part of Blue Cross -- I'm not satisfied that the state has no access to these questions.) Am I to be recruited as part of the smoking Stasi?

Neither I nor anyone else is allowed to smoke in my home, but that's my business. It is not because I worry for my health but for aesthetic reasons (I've had roommates who smoked cigarettes in the bathroom with the fan on, leaving very ugly yellow residue on the bathroom ceiling.) I am concerned that health officials and health professionals are now trying to recruit private individuals to be part of the smoking police. Have any readers experienced similar questions? Let me know in comments.