July 22, 2013
This fall, Pennsylvania State University will require employees and their spouses or domestic partners who receive health insurance benefits to fulfill new requirements or be fined a $100 monthly surcharge come January, according to Penn State News.
These requirements include completing an online wellness profile, physical examination, body mass index testing, glucose check, blood pressure test and waist circumference measurements. This new initiative, "Take Care of Your Health," is a step toward Penn State raising awareness for potential health risks and in turn better controlling its health care costs.
"It is important to note that screening results are confidential and will not be used to remove or reduce health care benefits, nor raise an individual's health care premium," a university announcement read, as reported by Inside Higher Ed. "The results only are for individual health awareness, illness prevention and wellness promotion."
Some workers, however, worry the results will be used at some point to establish individualized insurance premiums, We Are Central PA noted. "I have a pre-existing condition and I think this is where this is heading," said Victoria Kovatto, a 14-year Penn State employee.
Many employees, who first learned of the changes through a mailed pamphlet, aren't pleased. Matthew Woessner, professor of political science at the Harrisburg campus, told Insider Higher Ed that he resents being forced to undergo medical exams. He explained that he takes care of his health and tries to exercise on a daily basis. "There's a fine line between encouraging employees to be healthy and requiring them to comply with health screenings," he stated.
There is also some concern that the plan was never run by the school's faculty senate for approval, as least as noted by Larry Backer, a law professor and past faculty senate president at Penn State's main campus in University Park. "The coercive feature is novel, at least at Penn State, though program administrators tried hard to mask it in the language of choice and consequences," he told Inside Higher Ed.
Jonathan Levin, an economics professor at Stanford University's School of Business, said companies often provide one of two types of wellness incentives. The most common one involves financial rewards for people who have physical exams and undergo health counseling. The other is often a direct incentive for sticking with a healthy behavior, such as stopping smoking or losing weight. Levin said that it's conceivable that Penn State's initiative could fall under the first if the program were structured differently.
Still, some faculty members are upset about the fact that this seems like a forced health wellness plan. Indeed, Mark Pauly, a professor of health care management and business economics at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, mentioned that he'd heard of other employers using this "stick" approach, but not to such a "daunting" degree.
"The evidence does not really support the idea that this forced wellness helps, but employers these days are afraid to try anything else," he wrote to Inside Higher Ed in an e-mail. "It is a mystery to me why Penn State would start irritating their workers."
Compiled by Doresa Banning
"Step on the Scale or Pay Up for Penn State Employees," wearcentralpa.com, July 18, 2013, Carolyn Donaldson
"'Take Care of Your Health' initiative announced ahead of open enrollment," news.psu.edu, July 11, 2013
"Weigh In or Pay," insidehighered.com, July 22, 2013, Colleen Flaherty