Health Care

Penn State Forces Staff to Reveal Medical Habits or Face Steep Fine

$1,200 if you don't inspect your balls, gentlemen


Matthew Woessner, associate professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University, doesn't smoke, spends an hour every day on the elliptical trainer and eats (mostly) healthy food. But he draws the line at new "wellness" steps required by his employer, such as filling out a form that asks whether he examines his testicles every month—and paying a $1,200 penalty if he doesn't comply.

An open letter Woessner wrote protesting the university's 2014 wellness requirements has sparked a protest by more than 2,000 faculty and staff employees at Penn State who argue that it is coercive and unethical and ask that it be stopped.

Studies show the $1,200 annual penalty is one of the most severe to be imposed by a U.S. employer, only 2 percent of which use fines alone, rather than rewards, to push staff to undergo medical testing, provide data on their health and otherwise participate in wellness programs.

Most of the opposition to the program focuses on what Woessner calls "the ethical ramifications of coercing employees to turn over private health information" to companies running the wellness program. But he and other faculty members have recently been contacted by experts in workplace wellness, pointing to studies showing that such programs, on average, save employers little, if anything, in healthcare costs and may even increase spending by forcing workers to undergo extra testing and schedule additional doctor visits.