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To save money on health care, many employers are encouraging their workers to adopt better habits, and the Pennsylvania State University is among them. Recently, Penn State went a step further. The school plans to charge employees $100 a month if they refuse to participate in health improvement programs. As NPR's Jeff Brady tells us, some faculty members are protesting.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: It's Susan Basso's job to cut Penn State's health care bill. She's vice president for human resources.
SUSAN BASSO: This year, our health care spend is projected to be $217 million, with that increasing probably about 14 percent next year, with no mitigation.
BRADY: Mitigation, in this case, is Penn State's Take Care of Your Health program. The university wants employees to undergo a screening that examines things like blood sugar, weight and waist size. Employees and their spouses or domestic partners also must complete an online wellness profile and agree to undergo a preventive physical exam. Those who refuse will be charged an extra $100 a month. Outside a clinic in State College, Jolene Kost was among the first to show up for the screening.
JOLENE KOST: I'm OK with it if it helps lower my insurance. That would be fine. I'd be all for that.
BRADY: At the same clinic, Tracy O'Rourke is a little more skeptical.
TRACEY O'ROURKE: I'm sort of mixed feelings about it. I sort of think it's an invasion. But, you know, I don't also want to be charged 100 extra dollars a month.
BRADY: Others are protesting the initiative. Matthew Woessner is a political science professor at Penn State's Harrisburg campus.
MATTHEW WOESSNER: The university has a chance to save a modest amount of money, and they think it's OK to throw our liberties and our privacy on the funeral pyre.
BRADY: Woessner says health decisions are an intimate thing, and he doesn't like an employer getting involved. Woessner shows me the online wellness profile he's filled out.
WOESSNER: And it begins with basic information: height, weight. And then it goes through...
BRADY: Well, now, wait a minute. It says there you're 3'8" tall, 50 pounds?
WOESSNER: Yes. I have a plan to try to scuttle this wellness profile.
BRADY: Woessner wrote a letter to his colleagues encouraging them to join his protest and fill out their profiles with nonsense. He also suggests Penn State workers schedule their medical screenings with their own physicians rather than with a company Penn State hired for that purpose.
BASSO: I think it's rather unfortunate and sad, actually.
BRADY: Penn State's Susan Basso says all the information submitted is confidential. And she says, ultimately, the program is designed to benefit workers by keeping them healthy and saving them money. This protest comes amid a change in how employers approach health improvement programs. Most began with incentives, but now they're switching to penalties. Helen Darling is president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. She says well over 85 percent of employers have health improvement programs.
HELEN DARLING: There's a definite shift, and the shift is moving faster. So, for example, the companies that - well, the earliest ones providing rewards have moved to something that feels and looks more like a penalty.
BRADY: Penn State officials say some employees are complying with the new program. More than 2,700 people already have completed the online part of the new requirements, and more than a quarter of the available screening appointments have been filled. Jeff Brady, NPR News.
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