Opinion

Our View | Dropping surcharge a healthy first step by Penn State; privacy still a concern

Penn State made the right decision in suspending a $100 monthly surcharge included in its new wellness plan for employees who don’t want to participate in an online survey.

We urge Penn State officials to continue to pursue measures to protect employees’ personal health care information, even as the university addresses necessary concerns about the rising cost of health care.

Penn State is self-insured and projects that costs in 2013-14 will reach $217 million. That would represent an increase of 13 percent.

University leaders say the pace of increase is not sustainable.

The Penn State Faculty Senate has asked for a one-year moratorium on the entire wellness program, which administrators say would be too costly.

“We cannot delay the inevitable,” David Gray, senior vice president for finance and business, said. “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.”

In some ways, Penn State employees are facing situations folks encounter frequently in the private sector, especially the push for preventive measures aimed at reducing health care costs.

But this “Take Care of Your Health” plan was rolled out too quickly — a fact apparently not lost on President Rodney Erickson and other university leaders.

Penn State workers have flooded our letters to the editor and online comments with their opposition to the wellness plan, expressing concerns especially about the $100 fee and the security of personal information in the hands of an insurance company on the Internet.

Kim Blockett, an associate English professor at Penn State’s Brandywine campus, spoke at last week’s meeting of the Faculty Senate, which became a forum for reaction to the health plan.

“For me, discussing my reproductive plans with an unknown entity at an insurance company does not constitute ‘private,’ ” Blockett said.

In a statement Tuesday, Erickson said: “What we are hearing is that there has not been enough time to discuss and digest this initiative. It’s clear that the interactions we have had up to this point have not been sufficient.”

Now that the $100 surcharge has been suspended —which suggests a temporary scenario — more consideration should be given to ensuring employees that their personal information won’t be made public.

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