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Employee ire forces IU to pull wellness survey

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Indiana University, the fourth-largest employer in the state, is backing off a key part of its new wellness program after a backlash from employees.

The school will no longer ask employees to fill out an online health risk assessment after more than 550 people—many anonymous—attached names to an online petition that said the plan would cause “widespread anger and disillusionment” among the IU work force.

The idea was to have medical staff at Indianapolis-based Clarian Health review each questionnaire and provide suggestions for ways each employee could improve his or her health. IU, which employs 17,000 workers, has seen its health-benefits costs surge 8 percent to 12 percent each year.

The questionnaire is one part of what IU calls the Health Engagement Plan. The plan also asks employees covered by the IU health plan to sign a commitment to use no tobacco products and undergo tests of their blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body-mass index.

In exchange, IU employees with family coverage could save between $40 and $160 per month on their premium contributions, depending on their pay level. For individual coverage, the savings range from $20 to $80 per month.

Those “savings” largely would have offset premium increases taking effect next year as part of IU’s efforts to curb the yearly growth in its health-benefits spending.

“The whole intent of this was, give employees a tool to lead to decisions that would lead to healthier lifestyles,” said IU spokesman Larry MacIntyre. But, he added, “unless people are somewhat enthusiastic or feel confident about it, it’s not going to be effective.”

So on Monday, IU announced it would cancel the questionnaire and destroy any data already gathered from it. But the school still will ask employees to sign the tobacco-free commitment and submit to the blood tests and body-mass-index screenings.

Complaints about the wellness plan from IU staff ranged from the erudite to the conspiratorial.

“The ethics of the questionnaire presented are deeply fraught (ex., asking if we attend religious services as part of our health profile),” wrote Pheadra C. Pezzullo, a professor of communications and culture. “The idea of that information going into a corporation's database also raises serious questions.”

Virginia J. Vitzthum, an IU anthropology professor who noted she has a Ph.D., wrote, “I am a human biologist and hence familiar with the large body of scientific literature documenting substantial normal variation among humans in all aspects of biology and health. The [Health Engagement Plan] as presented appears to have ignored these data. Clearly more deliberations are needed, and I urge the inclusion of experts in human biology (experts in medicine are not equivalent) in the construction of any program.”

A man named Steve Johnson wrote, “Under the guise of promoting a healthier lifestyle you're pushing a thinly veiled scam to simply bilk more money out us.”

To read all comments submitted about the IU plan, go here.

MacIntyre said IU likely would retool the questionnaire and try again later.

“We think that there’s some value in the concept, but only if it’s accepted and utilized by employees,” he said. “So we’re going to go back and look at it early next year. But we’ve got to find a way to do it that’s accepted by employees.”

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  • Step in the right direction, if people take responsibility
    I agree with your comment and think that people should be more PROACTIVE about their health. I'm sure the angry complaints came from those that aren't really ready to start making lifestyle changes and take control of their health and well-being. This can definitely be executed in a more confidential way without the employer knowing the results of the surveys. Nice try IU. Don't give up the fight to end chronic diseases caused by lifestyle choices!
  • Wouldn't this be better administered at the PCP level?
    Seems like this is a systems problem. Instead of paying employees to take a assessment via the employer, maybe we should pay physicians to administer real primary prevention. Cover the health assessment and coaching at 100% via the PCP and incent the physicians through pay for performance.
  • Accept Responsibility
    Too many employees think they are entitled to unlimited low cost health care, despite the negative health consequences they bring upon themselves through lifestyle choices. I sympathize with those who have health conditions over which they have no control, and applaud employers who try to help employees and family members who want to take control. It seems that the IU plan was a pay-or-play option, and that those who are most likely to drive up the cost of future health care can choose to pay more. Fair enough. And there are wellness companies out there that employers should use to protect the privacy of their employees.
    • Not everything is a conspiracy
      I work for another health care network in the city and we have had yearly health screenings and questionnaires for several years now. My employer has gone out of their way to create great programs for employees free of charge to help those who are interested in making better health decisions and choices. Based on how you fill out your questionare..they will give you information on different wellness programs that will match your issues IF you are interested. Absolutely nothing is forced on you. You are given the opportunity to received financial credits towards your premiums by meeting certain criteria and also by participating in certain programs. If you are not interestedâ?¦that is fine. If you are interested in making health improvementsâ?¦this is a fantastic way to get the help you need, financial support, guidance and even free medications. These programs are even available to spouses!!! I am glad my coworkers were able to see the benefits to a questionnaire like this and not start a petition to keep it from happening. On behalf of the many employees who have greatly benefited from the wellness programs that were developed out of the questionnaire dataâ?¦.thank you Community Health Network for being an awesome employer!
    • costs
      It will stop, when the public begins to understand that because chose to not exercise, chose to smoke, and make poor dietary chgoics. I for one am sick of paying higher insurance costs because others poor choicers increase the risk in my pool.
    • Clarian Requires
      Clarian already requires this of their employees. Most of the employees just lie when filling it out. It is none of their business how many hours of sleep I get and what my stress level is. I just put what they wanted to see and go about my business. And they say its anonymous but its not, they send you emails checking on "your progress." We already have to give a blood sample, have BP checked. Next they will be checking genetics. When will it stop.
    • be very skeptical
      It would be good to know just who are the "personnel" who "review" the questionnaires and "make suggestions". Having had insurance from a smaller employer, I know they try it too, only it was blatantly the insurance agent and the agent's office manager who made the "medical" suggestions. And this wasn't obvious info, either. They obviously had seen records on my medications and procedures and were coached to "suggest" alternatives. It was shocking and trust-breaking. Being helpless in the situation, all I could do was be rude.
    • Big Brother
      When will people realize that someone will eventually just simply tell us how we're supposed to live, and we won't have a helluva lot to say about it.
    • Re: Just Commenting
      Your choice is to either take the questionaire and jump through the hoops now or pay the higher premium now. What would you rather do? IU could have just raised all their health care premiums, but they did this to keep costs down.
    • Wake Up
      At what point are employees/individuals going to see that thier unhealthly lifestyles affect the healthplan, premiums, rates, company bottom line and so on? Individuals need to wake up, eat right and be active in order to turn the trend around. By employees completing surveys, assesments and screenings they see thier data and know what they can improve upon for a happy healthier longer life....
    • IU health questions
      A company I worked for previously also did this so-called "anonymous" health questionnaire. We all were weighed, had health advisers assigned to us & were required to attend a certain number of health classes to get our premium credits. This is what happened: the next year the insurance company comes back with a chart of stats showing x number of people with high cholesterol, heart disease, weight problems etc., and the "projected" as well as real-time costs of covering these "anonymous" people's health issues. And guess what? The employer & the insurance company used these stats as reasoning behind raising the minimum OOP on our Health Savings Accounts, as well as the premiums. Anonymous? Not exactly. They take those numbers & stats and they use them against you. Oh-- and the personal health coaches we were supposed to get? Those kind of fell by the wayside. Suddenly nobody knew what that was about, even though it was in writing when we filled out all those questionnaires.

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