Friday, May 29, 2015

Penn State's misplaced wellness plan

PSU, a place not without controversy, has pulled the plug on a health plan proposal that seems, well, controversial.

Penn State's misplaced wellness plan

Erickson. (Craig Ruttle/AP file photo)
Erickson. (Craig Ruttle/AP file photo)

It's not as if Penn State hasn't faced some controversy in the past few years.

So it's sort of puzzling that it's administrators would walk right into another one.

If you missed it, the university just pulled the plug on a plan aimed at reducing its escalating health-care costs that would, among other things, fine its employees (it has 40,000) $100 a-month if they failed to fill out an online wellness survey.

Problem is the survey gets a little personal. It asks questions about marital status and finances, and it asks women employees if they plan on getting pregnant.

Perhaps understandably, some saw this as an invasion of privacy and kicked up a storm about it during a faculty meeting on campus last week.

So Wednesday, PSU prez Rodney Erickson issued a statement saying this: “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."

You can read coverage of this issue by The New York Times here. You can read coverage by the student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, here.

One wonders two things: how did such a survey get to the level it did without some higher-up saying, whoa, maybe we should rethink this; and where exactly is this whole health-care thing headed?

As the nation fights health-care costs and employers struggle with how to provide cost-effective coverage for employees there will no doubt be growing pressures to offer rewards and punishment in areas such as smoking, weight, health screening, fitness efforts and general lifestyle patterns.

That kind of stuff will become commonplace. The challenge, as PSU is learning, is how to do it without stepping on personal freedoms and privacy.

One way would seem to be seeking agreements with employees BEFORE issuing policies, a path Penn State perhaps should have followed.

Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

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