Penn State Faculty Senate wants additional changes to health care plan

mdawson@centredaily.comSeptember 25, 2013 

Penn State’s Faculty Senate is asking Old Main to suspend another surcharge associated with the university’s new, and controversial, wellness plan.

The Faculty Senate convened a special meeting Tuesday and passed a resolution that asks the university to drop the $100 surcharge employees will pay if their spouses and domestic partners use Penn State insurance but have insurance available to them through their own jobs.

“I’ve heard from so many colleagues $100 a month is not nothing,” said associate professor Maria Truglio during a discussion about the Senate’s resolution. “It’s the electric bill, it’s a week of groceries, and I think we need to continue to support our colleagues who are affected by this.”

The Faculty Senate’s resolution also voices support for university administrators’ decision last week to suspend a separate $100 surcharge on employees. That surcharge would have affected employees who do not complete several requirements of the new wellness plan, including filling out an online profile and giving a blood sample for a biometric screening.

Penn State officials have said they will form a task force to review the health care initiative, and they pledged to consult with faculty experts about other options to control health care expenses. University spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said the task force will weigh the resolution, too.

“We’re looking forward to the expeditious formation of the health care task force, which will call on the expertise found throughout the Penn State community in working to address the serious fiscal challenges we’re facing while continuing to provide quality health care,” she said.

Faculty and staff across campus had decried the new plan as invasive and coercive, and they feared their lower-paid coworkers would acquiesce because they could not afford the financial hit to their paychecks.

The university’s decision to ditch the surcharge was the result of protest from the faculty members at the Sept. 10 Senate meeting. There, the Faculty Senate peppered administrators and representatives from insurance company Highmark with questions about maintaining the privacy and safety of their medical information.

Administrators have said that the wellness plan was developed to help curb Penn State’s rapidly rising health care costs. The wellness plan and other health care changes at Penn State would contribute to almost $63 million in savings over the next five years, officials have said.

The Faculty Senate had weighed asking for a one-year delay in the rollout, but instead, the members moved to change the wording of the resolution to show their support for the university’s decision to suspend the surcharge.

The Faculty Senate’s formal request has additional components:

•  It asks Penn State leaders to find out how health care benefit changes will affect faculty members’ and staffers’ health, finances and productivity.

•  It requests that any reforms to the wellness initiative be presented for approval to the full Faculty Senate by the group’s last meeting of the academic year, on April 29.

•  The faculty want representation on the health care task force that will review the wellness plan. The resolution calls for a minimum of 12 members, with a third of the group elected by faculty senators.

•  The resolution asks administrators to draw on health policy experts across campus to evaluate the alternatives for controlling expenses.

Penn State calls its initiative “Take Back Your Health” and designed it to focus on preventative care.

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