Have you been following the recent debate over President Donald Trump’s health? His personal physician recently summarized his annual checkup by declaring that the President is in “excellent health,” and is “absolutely … fit for duty.”
But others who reviewed the President’s lab results assert that he must “ … increase the dose of his cholesterol-lowering medication and make necessary lifestyle changes … (to reduce his) moderate risk of having a heart attack in the next three to five years …”
Embedded in this debate is the natural awkwardness of revealing any individual’s private health information to others. After all, wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable if the results of your annual checkup were revealed to others and then openly debated by them?
Even federal Senators, state Governors, and other high-ranking elected officials are not subjected to such personal scrutiny. Only the President has been required to submit to it.
In the private sector, though, similar debates have simmered for years about whether publicly traded companies should monitor and disclose the health risks that are faced by their Chief Executive Officers. Apple, for instance, was sharply criticized for keeping many of the details regarding Steve Jobs’ mortal illness confidential. And its Board never insisted on selecting Jobs’ primary care physician.
In contrast, the railroad transportation firm CSX is now opting for a policy of full transparency. Its Board of Directors, responding to the sudden death of its recently deceased CEO, recently decided to “ … require the railroad’s chief executive to submit to an annual physical exam that will be reviewed by the board … (to be performed by) a medical provider chosen by the board …”
This policy inevitably raises an important governance concern. Namely, are companies entitled to select their CEOs’ physicians, and then to review their private health information? The need for such transparency may be understandable, but is the policy itself appropriate?
After all, CEOs are not the only key employees within firms. There are undoubtedly dozens, or even hundreds, of workers within each company who may be deemed key members of the work force.
Should companies have the right to monitor all of their private health information? Where does an employee’s right to privacy outweigh a company’s need for information? And which employees, if any, should be subjected to such scrutiny?
Today, this question may only affect the President of the United States, the incoming Chief Executive Officer of CSX, and a few other key employees of various firms. In the near future, though, it may affect all of us.