Be Healthy or Pay: Penn State Receives Heat in Response to New Health Policy

Frank N. Darras, founder of America's Top Disability Firm, DarrasLaw, discusses pre-existing conditions and employer-sponsored plans.

July 30, 2013

Penn State has received an outpouring of negative feedback after unveiling their new employee healthcare policy earlier this month. The new initiative, which begins this month, requires benefits-enrolled employees and their spouse or domestic partner to complete an online wellness profile and preventive physical exam certification.

Taking a direct approach, the university titled the program " Take Care of Your Health" requires nearly 17,000 employees to disclose health information, such as glucose, body mass index, waist circumference and blood pressure. If employees refuse they are slapped with a hefty fine of $100 a month. The goal of the program is to increase preventive care measures - and of course, save the university and their insurance company money.

"It's not surprising this new plan didn't go over well. Employees with pre-existing conditions are at a serious disadvantage with the new program and others are outraged at the invasion of privacy. While this is common practice for any private health insurance policies, one of the largest benefits of employer-sponsored plans has always been that medical checks are not required for eligibility," says Frank N. Darras, America's top disability insurance lawyer.

While preventive care incentives are common at many universities and companies across the country, the $1,200 annual fine for non-compliance is not. It's important to note that premiums will not be affected based on these exams and employees are not required to submit their entire medical history or medical records; it's simply a measure to try and catch medical problems early and fix them before they get worse and more costly. Despite this, many Penn State employees are still outraged.

In an interview with Inside Higher Education, Matthew Woessner, professor of political science, said "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."

Echoing his sentiment, a recent Facebook post by Penn State employee Vanessa White said "I would be much more 'on board' if we were getting a monthly discount for complying rather than being 'fined' for non-compliance".

A Penn State spokesman reinforced on FOX News last week, that they are not requiring employees to submit their medical history and full medical file. They are interested in screening for signs of impending health problems in an effort to catch problems early and save money for both employees and the University.

"We are implementing a significant set of changes that will help us turn the tide on unmanageable increases in health care costs for our faculty and staff....[it] will help us to sustain the existing quality of employee health care options while easing pressures on tuition increases that face our students and their families," said Penn State President Rodney Erickson.

The changes will be implemented by January 1, 2014 and only apply to Penn State employees enrolled in the University-sponsored health plan.

"The truth is that initiatives similar to these are taking place in companies all across the country. Health insurance and health care costs are rising every day and more employers are keeping their employees accountable. They want to empower their employees and their families to make healthy choices and reduce medical problems through preventive care," says Darras.