UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A $100 monthly surcharge for Penn State employees who fail to participate in a screening portion of a new wellness initiative has been waived by the University, according to President Rodney Erickson, who said his administration has clearly heard the concerns from faculty and staff on the issue. In addition, a joint task force will be formed to provide advice on the implementation of the program and on health benefits matters.
The University is committed to recognizing in an appropriate way the many employees who have participated in the wellness profile, biometric screening and physical attestation. About 10,000 people have participated to date.
Penn State’s newly proposed health initiative, “Take Care of Your Health,” was rolled out a few months ago with a focus on employee wellness and is expected to slow rapidly rising health care costs for the University, which is self-insured. Penn State’s health care spend is projected to be $217 million in 2013-2014. Without intervention, this is a growth of approximately 13 percent over the previous year — a trend that is not sustainable, according to administrators.
“We have decided to suspend the $100 per month surcharge so that people who are uncomfortable with any aspect of the survey will not feel as if they are being penalized,” Erickson said. “There is still a tremendous financial challenge that we must address in the coming year and beyond, but we also need to acknowledge the concerns of employees and seek their advice on how to overcome these fiscal roadblocks and still provide quality health care.”
Erickson said that as the health care plan was unveiled, both faculty and staff openly expressed concerns about privacy issues related to the storage of their medical data; the perceived invasiveness of some questions on the health screening; and the $100 surcharge, which some have called “coercive.”
“What we are hearing is that there has not been enough time to discuss and digest this initiative,” Erickson explained. “It’s clear that the interactions we have had up to this point have not been sufficient and this is a genuine attempt on our part to ensure appropriate input and consultation has been sought from members of our faculty and staff. This is a matter of deep concern for our employees and for the University as a whole.”
At a recent University Faculty Senate meeting, senators agreed to hold a special session to vote to impose a one-year moratorium on implementing the health care changes. That meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 24.
“The financial imperative is so great at this point, that we cannot institute a one-year moratorium,” said David Gray, senior vice president for Finance and Business.” We cannot delay the inevitable. If we don’t get on top of this challenge now, each and every year we will compound our problem. It is unfortunate, but we are facing double-digit increases that amount to millions of dollars and we must address it now.”
Gray said he and others plan to work with Faculty Senate and staff members to form a task force that will evaluate alternatives for implementing the program. The administration also will draw upon the expertise of University faculty and staff in planning effective ways to control healthcare expenses, while still maintaining quality benefits. These also are initiatives that senate members are seeking through a proposed resolution.
Due to the University’s financial constraints, the surcharges for smoking and for spouses who qualify for their own health insurance will remain in place, Gray said.
“We hope that faculty and staff will choose to participate in the online survey and the biometric screening that is part of the Take Care of Your Health initiative,” Gray said. “However, we are respecting the anxiety and concerns of our colleagues by suspending the $100 per month noncompliance charge while we seek input into ways to improve the program. The feedback we have received has told us that we need to take a step back and tap into the diverse opinions of our employees.”
Employees are expected to select employee benefits for 2014 during the annual open-enrollment period set for Nov. 1- 22. The schedule of campus meetings can be found online.