Faculty members at Pennsylvania State University aren’t giving up their fight against “Take Care of Your Health.” They’ve launched an online petition against the university’s controversial new health care plan and its punitive surcharges for smoking, not completing annual biometric exams and online screenings, and covering spouses or domestic partners eligible for insurance through their own employers. Those monthly surcharges range from $75 to $100 each. More than 1,300 people, including faculty, staff and family members had signed the petition as of Thursday. “We the undersigned request, indeed, we demand, that the Office of Human Resources put an immediate end to the implementation of these programs, and open a conversation with their constituents (including both faculty and staff) in order to develop more equitable and less intrusive strategies for containing health care costs,” reads the petition, addressed to President Rodney Erickson, the Penn State Board of trustees, and human resources officials.
In contrast to positive incentive-based wellness programs at numerous other institutions, the petition reads, Penn State “has adopted what can only be called a harsh and coercive punishment system, in essence requiring employees to submit to intrusive questions and comply with medical procedures, or else pay significant fines.”
Penn State says it has offered positive wellness incentives in the past, such as Weight Watchers, but they did little to bring down the ballooning costs of its self-funded insurance system. It announced the surcharges this summer. They take effect in late fall and early winter. In an e-mail, Susan Basso, vice president for human resources, said the university was aware of the petition but would proceed with "Take Care of Your Health," a plan that's admittedly "bold for a university." The number of employees who have signed the petition make up just five percent of the benefit-enrolled population, she added.
Brian Curran, the professor of art history who authored the petition, said he was surprised by how many names he’d gathered and how diverse the signatories’ backgrounds were. Many also left comments. In almost every note, Curran said in an e-mail, “there is a sense, more or less explicitly stated, of the great burden that the past two years of [the Jerry Sandusky child abuse] scandal has placed on the morale of both faculty and staff. There is a common thread of ‘enough is enough,’ [and] ‘this is the last straw.’" That said, he added, “I continue to hope that the administration will do the right thing, and at least delay the imposition of the surcharges for the next year, so that a full airing of grievances and proper consultation can take place.”
The university consulted with the Faculty Senate's Benefits Committee on the plan, but the body as a whole was never asked to vote on it.
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