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Can your boss fine you for not disclosing your weight?

The Penn State University campus.

No matter where you come down on the new health care law, it's going to affect us all.

You might, for example, find your employer prodding you more about losing weight or quitting smoking. Not directly, but through so-called wellness programs that come with financial incentives or penalties.

Take Penn State University. Employees there are about to find themselves facing a pretty stiff surcharge for not going along with their wellness program.

They and their spouses will soon have to fill out online wellness profiles and get physicals. They’ll also need a bunch of tests including a body mass index and blood pressure. Failure to comply will cost $100 per month.

“There are a few faculty members -- and there might be more than a few, I can’t tell -- who are upset,” says Brent Yernal, the chairman of Penn State’s Faculty Senate.

The university announced the policy earlier this month while a lot of its staff is away.

Penn State says the confidential screening results won’t raise premiums, and they’re used for people’s own awareness and ”wellness promotion.”

Harvard health economics professor Katherine Baicker says it’s too early to tell whether wellness programs pay off.

“We’ll find out the answer better as more employers experiment with these programs, and we see what happens to the participants’ weight [and] blood pressure,” she explains.

A recent RAND study found only modest cost savings from wellness programs over time.

Independent health and wellness consultant Vik Khanna says employers should be focused on recruitment and retention, not their employees’ bad habits.

“A well done workplace wellness program should be about what an employer can do with and for the employees in the workplace, not what it can do TO them,” Khanna says.

Penn State employees in the Teamsters Union won’t be affected by the new policy. For those who don’t comply, the surcharge hits their paychecks starting in January.

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With respect to PSU's plan a better question is:

Since I have to see my doctor for an exam and ALSO allow a REDUNDANT partial exam by a third party for profit company and and ALSO allow the creation of a REDUNDANT electronic medical file in control of another third party for profit company...... can my employer still fine me if I am willing to comply but unwilling to sign breathtaking waivers of my right to sue these third party for profit companies should something go badly wrong with my blood draw or security of my redundant partial medical record? Because at PSU, you do have to agree to not sue anybody if these third parties screw up these things...... which your doctor is already _supposed_ to be doing.

The purpose is revenue; there is no evidence at PSU they even tried to figure out how to run this show through the insurer's participating primary care doctors, who are already charged with wellness promotion. The real question for the nation SHOULD be....

(1) How do we evaluate plan participating primary care providers' programs for wellness promotion and
(2) What carrots and sticks will be most effective at getting employees (i.e., patients) to listen to those doctors?

Simply bringing in third parties to get in the middle of a broken doctor-patient culture, with all the attendant overhead costs to manage the third party for profit businesses, will not address the true problem, which is the doctor-patient relationship in primary care. Patients are able to ignore the docs and physician wellness programs are not even monitored. If wellness is what we want, rather than short term revenue, injecting greater wellness into primary care is where the nation's eye should be riveted.

PSU's program has simply adopted the short cut to revenue with blind faith of later savings, at the expense of REDUNDANT partial exams and creating REDUNDANT electronic partial medical files, but only if the employee signs breathtaking legal waivers for "any harm" that might result.

Can they really make us do that?

Bullying from employers is nothing new. Employers seek their profit from and dump liability on those weaker than themselves, especially individuals. Selling their propaganda as a 'discount' policy pretends employees aren't harmed by newly imposing punitive costs that aren't shared collectively. Offering a benefit of caring for everyone properly is costly, which then makes certain classes of people 'more equal' than others to pay for it. Ultimately all employees are expendable human capital that are nothing more than soft tools, so don't believethe hype. If you want to keep your job, your compensation and your livelihood,... you'll shut up about it.

This sounds great...in theory. We all want to save health care costs and live healthier.
But at what point does it become an intrusion, ala the NSA? What if your employer wants you to quit smoking; or quit drinking (even in moderation?). These may not be good for you, but they are LEGAL activities. Should they be allowed to force you to lose that extra 10 pounds you've been trying to get off?
What if they want to "surcharge" you for your recreation ? (Think motorcycle, horse, or skis). Where does it stop?

My employer has a program just like this and I think it's great! If nothing else, this has caused me to develop healthier habits and work on getting in shape. I thought it was a great idea when it was presented to me by HR when I got the job. Maybe because they described it as a discount and not a surcharge for not complying.

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