Saturday, August 3, 2013

More on Penn State's "Wellness" Program: Letter to the Faculty Senate From the Faculty Executive Committee at Penn State Brandywine

I have been writing about the move by private employers and universities to migrate eugenics notions into their benefits programs for employees, and usually either to make their employees better fit for work (as they see it) or to reduce their costs of offering benefits they deem necessary to retain employees or their reputation in the marketplace. (e.g., The New Eugenics--The Private Sector, the University, and Corporate Health and Wellness Initiatives).

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

I have recently noted the reaction to this change among actors at Penn State. (e.g.,Penn State's New "Wellness Program" in the News). As faculty at Penn State begin to consider more carefully the recently announced changes to the university's benefits programs, institutional faculty actors are now beginning to be heard.  With permission, this post includes the text of a Letter to the Faculty Senate From the Faculty Executive Committee at Penn State Brandywine.  They raise important issues that ought to be considered both at Penn State and generally by those considering these sorts of benefits program changes. 

To the Penn State University Faculty Senate,

We, the Faculty Executive Committee at Penn State Brandywine, are writing now in reference to the “Take Care of Your Health” initiative that has just been announced. We have a number of serious concerns that we urge the University Faculty Senate to bring to the University administration and Human Resources Department. Based on recent public responses from other campus governance and conversations we are having with our campus staff, there is widespread anxiety and there are many unanswered questions about this program. We are advocating for the suspension of the implementation of the “Take Care of Your Health” initiative until the issues have been fully and satisfactorily addressed. Our concerns include:
1. We are concerned about the protection of personal biometric data. Where is this information going to be stored? Given the very recent breaches in electronic security at this institution and others, what guarantees do we have that this data will be kept secure? How is this data going to be used immediately and in the long term?
2. We are concerned that this initiative is being made as a cost-savings measure, but we have not seen any data that supports this argument. Can the University provide substantive evidence from peer institutions that have instituted a similar initiative that the extensive collection of this kind of personal health data leads to cost savings?

3. We are concerned that the “Take Care of Your Health” initiative approaches wellness through punitive measures, namely a charge of $100 per month, rather than an incentivizing structure that rewards healthy efforts through the reduction of premiums.
4. We are concerned about the timing of this initiative. A change of this scope should not be done during the summer months when there are fewer opportunities for the University faculty and staff to discuss and respond to the matter. The initial response to the proposition of this kind of wellness program that was discussed in March 2013 generated a great deal of feedback and concern. There was no indication that the voiced concerns were taken into account, nor that the intended change would be introduced just four months later.

Again, we urge the UFS to advocate for the suspension of the implementation of “Take Care of Your Health” program until the above concerns have been fully addressed and we look forward to working with you in whatever ways we can.


Penn State Brandywine Executive Committee

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