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Penn State’s New Employee Health Program Criticized

Penn State’s new healthcare policy for staff was unveiled this month, but not without heavy criticism.

The new initiative, which begins this month, required benefits-enrolled employees and their spouse or domestic partner to complete a online wellness profile and a preventive physical exam certification and fie it with the university. The plan affects over 17,000 employees.

Bluntly called “Take Care of Your Health,” the new policy forces university employees to disclose information such as “full lipid profile, random glucose, body mass index, waist circumference, and blood pressure check” or face a hefty $100-a-month fine. The goal is to increase preventive care measures, which of course is much cheaper for insurance companies than waiting until after someone gets sick.

To put it lightly, the plan didn’t go over so well.

“I care about my health – I try to exercise every day and I eat pretty well,” said Matthew Woessner, professor of political science at the Harrisburg campus, in an interview with Inside Higher Education. “But I resent that my employer requires that I submit to medical exams, essentially. There’s a fine line between encouraging employees to be healthy and requiring them to comply with health screenings.”

Preventive care incentives are common at many universities and companies across the country. The $1,200 annual fine for non-compliance, however, is not.

“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,” Faculty Senate Chair Larry Backer said in the same Inside Higher Education interview. Naturally, the Faculty Senate was not consulted on the new program.

A recent column in the Philadelphia Inquirer wasn’t so kind to the idea either, calling the new initiative a “program of all guts, no glory.”

“What’s curious is, nobody I’m aware of who has done research in this area was involved,” said Dennis Scanlon, a Penn State professor of health policy and administration, to the Inqurier. “What often drives these decisions are benefits consultants, people who have a vested interest in canned ‘solutions,’ like ‘wellness.’ “

For fairness sake, it’s worth noting that not every outspoken Penn State employee has been critical. StateCollege.com columnist and Penn State professor Patty Kleban took a fairly positive stance in her latest column.

“I personally plan to use it as incentive to drop a few pounds, move around a bit more and take better care of my health,” Kleban said.

For more analysis, check out the comprehensive Inside Higher Education piece that consults national experts on the issue.

About the Author

Kevin Horne

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014 and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus, which is a fake title he made up. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is also the president of the graduate student government. Email: [email protected]

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