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Employee benefits program drawing ire at Penn State

Employee Benefits
by Brian Stentz
Employee benefits program drawing ire at Penn State
Employee benefits program drawing ire at Penn State

While many companies and workers alike have been able to find numerous positives from employee benefit plans that reward healthy behavior, it seems that a major problem some may have comes through implementing them, as was highlighted by a recent case in Pennsylvania.

So far, more than 1,300 workers at Penn State say that the school's new plans to start adding surcharges and a wellness program, designed to help workers be in better shape, constituted an invasion of their privacy, according to a report from the Centre Daily Times. For instance, the plan will charge a school employee $100 more per month when a spouse has the option to enroll in health insurance coverage through his or her own employer, or if they refuse to submit to a health screening and fill out an online wellness profile, and $75 if they use tobacco products.

It is the second of these issues that seems to be causing the most consternation with workers, who are calling it an invasion of privacy, even though university officials will not have access to individual records and the program itself won't lead to additional charges to people who do not fit within certain health profiles, the report said. There are also fears that the tobacco charge would be applied based on information given in either the online profile or the physical screening.

The reason Penn State is putting the plan into effect is that it says its healthcare costs are spiraling out of control, and expected to top $217 million for the next school year, the report said. And because wellness programs have proven extremely effective in reducing these costs going forward, the school is trying to implement it in the best manner possible.

Of course, this case also shows that companies and even insurers may need to tread lightly when implementing these plans, and perhaps do more to ensure that they're highlighting all the various positives these plans can bring, rather than move in a fashion that could be viewed negatively by employees. This may be more effective when companies put incentive programs into place that encourage certain healthier behaviors, rather than penalizing those who participate in them. That might serve to entice workers to take on the preferred behaviors of their own volition, rather than making them feel under attack for behaving as they have for years.

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