Penn State Mandates Employees Subject to Health Screenings and a Fine for Not Meeting Requirements


Pennsylvania State University (PSU) has taken health-based incentives to the next level and perhaps too far, reported.

Instead of rewarding its employees for good health practices, the school has enforced a policy and penalty for not meeting requirements. The "Take Care of Your Health" initiative charges faculty a $100 monthly surcharge for failing to meet health expectations.

"I care about my health - I try to exercise every day and I eat pretty well," Matthew Woessner, professor of political science at the Harrisburg campus. "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."

PSU's Senate was not included on making and implementing the policy, former Senate president and current law professor Larry Backer noted.

"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 said.

Each employee received a brochure in the mail stating the institution was trying to better control health care costs. By November, faculty and their spouse or domestic partner must complete a physical exam and an online health profile if they are covered by the school's health care policy.

It includes a biometric screening, a "full lipid profile" and glucose, body mass index and waist circumference measurements. Highmark, the school's insurance company will conduct the screenings and measurements. Any employee who falls short will be subject to the fine starting in January.

"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 stated. "The results only are for individual health awareness, illness prevention and wellness promotion."

Jonathan Levin, a professor of economics at Stanford University School of Business, said businesses usually offer incentives for employees who voluntarily get screened and checked. He told Inside Higher Ed that this could have been "framed" as incentive program if presented differently.

"The upshot of incentive programs is that people end up with different financial rewards," he said. "If you think of the people who get less as the baseline, those who get more are getting a 'bonus.' If you think of the people who get more as the baseline, those who get less are getting a 'penalty.'"

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