Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Pennsylvania State University apparently likes to do a lot of things "to the max" besides engaging in higher education scandals. Reuters reported last week that more than 2,000 faculty and staff employees are protesting Penn State's wellness program. Unlike most workplace wellness programs, which use more carrots than sticks to encourage employees to take better care of themselves in the hope of decreasing health insurance and health care spending, Penn State uses a really big stick and no carrot. If an employee does not complete a 12-page on-line survey (which includes a question about men performing regular testicular exams--oh, the irony!) and have a preventive physical, the employee will be hit with a $100 per month paycheck deduction. The protesting employees are uncomfortable with turning over their private health care information to the companies running the wellness program, and question whether the $1,200 penalty is a "Sandusky tax." Penn State assures its employees that the program is unrelated to the Sandusky scandal.
The protest raises interesting legal questions about medical records privacy and the use of coercive measures to improve health as a condition of employment. It also highlights the fact that workplace wellness programs may actually increase health care costs, at least in the short-term, as people go get physicals or bloodwork that they would not have otherwise received, in order to answer questionnaires and avoid fines, and the evidence to date is that such programs do very little to decrease health-care costs. The Affordable Care Act encourages the use of workplace wellness programs. Will they be the next piece of the law to be delayed or jettisoned?