Penn State wellness program penalizes noncompliant workers
By Debra Erdley
Published: Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, 9:17 p.m.
A new Penn State wellness program that imposes a $1,200-a-year penalty on employees who fail to complete a lengthy health survey and biometric screenings has sparked widespread protests.
Participants in the university's health insurance program are required to undergo weight and blood tests and take an online survey that delves into everything from monthly testicular self-exams for men to questions about depression, job security and drug use.
University officials began the program last month, calling it part of a strategic plan to control the school's health insurance costs, which are projected to grow 13 percent to $217 million this year.
Brian Curran, an art history professor at University Park, started an online petition that had 2,093 signatures as of Friday. He said the new requirements are “coercive,” and he's asking the university to delay implementation of the program. It is scheduled to take effect in January.
The university also announced it would impose a $100 monthly surcharge on participants whose spouses are eligible for insurance elsewhere and a $75 monthly surcharge on self-reported smokers.
“They had already done a verification process in the spring where they asked us to send in proof that our dependents, spouse and children were in fact legitimate — birth certificates and marriage licenses,” Curran said.
University spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said the changes have been in the works since 2011.
“Nothing about Penn State's health care initiative is mandatory. There are consequences for nonparticipation, but all employees have a choice regarding whether or not to participate,” she said.
Although wellness programs and screenings have become the norm among large employers seeking to control health care costs, most offer incentives to participate rather than penalties for failing to do so. A recent national survey of more than 2,800 employers found only 5 percent placed a surcharge on employees whose spouse had other coverage options.
CVS/Caremark, the national pharmacy chain, sparked a similar outcry this year when it announced a plan to fine employees $50 a month if they failed to submit weight and blood work.
Matthew Woessner, an associate professor of political science at Penn State's Harrisburg campus and a member of the faculty senate, fears the surveys may not be kept confidential and that employees are being unduly pressured. He is advocating a two-pronged response.
“I've told them I'm 3 feet 8 inches tall, weigh 50 pounds and work 24 hours a week,” he said, pointing out that employees can fill out the surveys with nonsense and still meet participation requirements.
He also recommended employees go to their private physicians for biometric screenings instead of using kiosks on campus.
“It will make data gathering so expensive the university will have no choice but to back out,” he said.
Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Dog wardens will canvass state for license compliance
- Louis Freeh gets expedited appeal to Graham Spanier suit
- Teacher indecency can get lost in state’s system, Trib analysis reveals
- Volunteers needed to plant trees at Flight 93 memorial
- Philadelphia museum truck drives home local history
- Many emergency room patients have dental problems
- Tobacco companies expected to contest Pennsylvania’s settlement on payments