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Host: Scott LaMar

RST: Penn State's controversial insurance plan; Are PA amusement rides being inspected?

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Aug 13, 2013 1:57 PM

What to look for on Radio Smart Talk Wednesday, August 14, 2013:

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With healthcare costs growing throughout the country, one of Pennsylvania’s largest employers has adopted a controversial new policy to save money.

To cut its healthcare costs, Penn State University has asked that all of its employees fill out an online survey with personal health questions.

Many companies in Pennsylvania have begun to give employees incentives for living healthy. But instead of incentives, Penn State employees who do not complete the survey will pay the school a surcharge of 100 dollars every month.

Dr. Matthew Woessner, associate professor of politics and public policy at Penn State Harrisburg, appears on Wednesday’s Radio Smart Talk to explain why some employees are upset with this new wellness program at Penn State.

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Dr. Matthew Woessner

Also, Pennsylvania is home to 9,300 amusement park rides, more than any other state in the county, however an investigation by PublicSource shows that the state’s inspection process may not be up

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to snuff.

On Wednesday’s show, reporters Emily DeMarco and Natasha Khan, will tell us what their investigation revealed about Pennsylvania’s amusement park inspections.

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  • John Orris img 2013-08-14 08:30

    It seems that companies are looking in the wrong direction to fix the problem with the expenses of health insurance.

    I recently heard a report where a gentleman went to another country for hip replacement. The final expense was just shy of 14 thousand dollars. The same procedure in this country would have been in the six figures.

    Employers and employees would be better served by fixing the expense problem, than by this type of program.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-08-14 08:30

    Email from Tom:

    The Commonwealth is doing the same thing. PEBTF (Pennsylvania Employee Benefit Trust Fund) is now requiring nearly identical information from state employees. In order to receive a 3% discount in our health contributions, we must submit the required information through our doctor, go to a Quest testing center or submit to a blood test at various work locations.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-08-14 08:31

    Email from Tom:

    The Commonwealth is doing the same thing. PEBTF (Pennsylvania Employee Benefit Trust Fund) is now requiring nearly identical information from state employees. In order to receive a 3% discount in our health contributions, we must submit the required information through our doctor, go to a Quest testing center or submit to a blood test at various work locations.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-08-14 08:37

    Email from John:
    What will stop a self-insured employer such as Penn State from firing employees with potentially costly health problems? Or from simply harassing them until they quit? There can be no clearer example of a conflict of interest.

    Years ago, when I worked for self-insured employer, I was ordered by my supervisor to "get rid of" a pregnant employee so the company would not have to pay for her maternity benefits. I refused. Three days later I was fired for "general incompetence." I can't prove anything, but. . .

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-08-14 08:44

    Email from Mark:
    Dr s. Position is an excuse for weak people who can't control their eating habits or self gratification through smoking and are not disciplined enough to excercise to keeping up their behavior. Penn states increase in medical costs as a result of laziness affects others. That is selfish. We don't have the right to be selfish if it impacts others. Net result...better health and cheaper premiums.


  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-08-14 08:48

    Email from Angela:
    I was employed by a local hospital with a self funded health insurance plan. We were required to get mammos at 40. Colonoscopies at 50 and then blood work every 2 years. Once you got the blood work if you needed a follow up call from the insurance company nurse you had to take that call. If you did not comply you paid higher fees.

    They also stopped hiring smokers and then required employees to certify that they are not smokers. If you didn’t you had to pay a higher fee. The company offered smoking cessation classes.

    I completely support it. I think that prevention is key to reducing health care cost. At the end of the day, if you don’t agree you have the option to not participate and pay the fine. Unless you are paying 100% of your insurance you need to comply or pay up the money.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-08-14 08:50

    Email from Josh:
    This ridiculous PSU policy is a logical outgrowth of ObamaCare, an overwhelmingly invasive big brother, big government program that sacrifices individual liberty for a few bucks.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-08-14 08:55

    Email from F.:
    Hi, Scott -

    I find it interesting that these "cost-saving" concerns are being imposed after the Sandusky debacle and massive fines levied on PSU. It would appear that, once again, "John Q" has to pay the freight in an effort for the institution to recoup some of its financial loss by any means due to the disgusting/reprehensible behavior of individuals who likely carried out their abuses with the knowledge of many of those in charge. It runs tandem with the carriers whose premiums and deductibles have soared in order to maintain profit margins threatened by the new provisions of Affordable Health Care Act. Profit is King and the fact that these efforts now impact the privacy and life styles of employees is indicative of the state of our society.

    That said, it's important for me to add that I'm very proud to have a graduate degree from PSU and intend to explore taking one of the Professor's courses.

    Thank you.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-08-14 08:58

    Email from Doris:
    I believe Penn State's approach is the wave of the future, and I think the larger issue, the elephant in the room that no one is willing to address, is the onerous requirement placed on employers to provide health coverage to employers and the onerous burden placed on employees and the unemployed by this system. This is the strongest argument I can think of for a single payer health coverage system, and I can't comprehend why otherwise pro-business conservatives continue to fight the concept of single payer.

  • saline67 img 2013-08-14 09:30

    While I agree with the Professor I also believe the efforts to reduce health care costs by employers is for the most part focused on increasing costs on the "end user" the consumer. Little or no pressure is being put on the top end of the "food chain" medical and pharma corporations including extravagant salaries in health care administration. Also little or no effort in changing from the "fee for service" to an outcome model. With state and federal legislators bought off by the health care/pharma industries (Rep. Joe Pitts being a prime example of this) I do not see this changing any time soon.

  • bittlehouse21 img 2013-08-14 11:44

    I found today's discussion on Penn State's wellness benefit shamefully sensationalized with a biased self imposed representative of their quasi instructor's union. I would like to respond to the fallacies this gentleman spread this morning.

    It was repeatedly omitted that this program was for employees who self selected the insurance benefits offered by their employer. Employees that did not choose to participate in the employer-sponsored plan were not subject to the wellness requirements.

    The three requirements are standard for the industry:
    Health Risk Assessment- an online, self-reported tool to inform the individual of the correlation of their health behaviors to an actuary established peer group health risk. The de-indentified aggregate data is used by a benefits planning committee to better tailor health messaging and enhance wellness offerings. Example- self reported low consumption of fruits and vegetables could lead to subsidized healthy selections at onsite cafeterias.
    Mobile Biometric Screenings- we have learned that when individuals self-report biometric information, it is usually inaccurate due time from previous testing. The mobile unit also allows those individuals, "who do not have time outside of work" the ability to be tested.
    Annual visit with a primary care doctor- it is a public health initiative to have individuals establish a PCP for the reason preventive health consultation. It has been shown that having a PCP reduces non-emergency visits to hospital emergency rooms.

    The professor's correlation of the HRA with population research by IRB standards is horribly flawed. IRB protocals are established based on the calculated risk of participants compared to a control group. The collection of health behavior information and current health biometric risk poses minimal risk to participants- acknowledge by the risk associated with the blood collection process. His linking of mandatory surveys in his collegiate class is also flawed. If the requirement to participate in a (or multiple) survey is documented requirement, than a reduction class grade due to non-participation would be appropriate.

    Please, for the sake of balanced reporting, have a knowledgeable resource on to discuss this topic.

    The above opinions are of my own and may not reflect those of my employer.

    Jason, York PA

  • Professor C img 2013-08-14 13:19

    First of all, I'm all for employers reducing my healthcare costs, but there is no evidence that these programs actually do that. On the contrary, some find that they actually cost more than they save. See Al Lewis's work on this "Why nobody believes the numbers" and "Cracking Health Costs." Second, the argument that this is an optional program and employees can simply opt out of PSU healthcare coverage is absurd. Most PSU employees don't have that option and, more importantly, when someone chooses to work at PSU over other institutions, healthcare coverage is part of their negotiated contract. That's right - contract. PSU agrees to provide coverage with employment. None of this was conditioned on ones' willingness to answer intrusive mental health questions or agree to have one's entire medical history uploaded onto WebMD.

  • DLS_York_Co img 2013-08-16 17:05

    My company has imposed all these things for years. I don't agree with it, but I do what I have to do so I can save money. Don't blame the Affordable Care Act because this has been around in many insurance programs for years.
    I agree that prevention is a key, but accidents and injuries are often beyond our control. Some of the commenters brag about being healthy and put down the rest of the world. Sad to say, but healthy people sometimes get cancer or fall victim to infections, and no one is immune from accidents, emergencies, and crime. Please, have some mercy and compassion for others.