Saturday, February 18, 2012

PEBB Doubles Down on Intrusion into Employees' Lives

The State of Oregon Public Employees' Benefit Board voted 5-4 to continue financial penalties of $20 (for singles) to $35 (for couples) per month for state employees who do not sign up for the PEBB's "Health Engagement Model" wellness program. All the labor representatives voted "no". The management representatives and the chairman (Sean Kolmer) voted "yes".

The management representatives point to the 85% participation after the fines were instituted. (Duh! Though one still has to admire the 15% who have refused to join.)

Of about 50,000 state employees covered, the rate of enrollment has skyrocketed from about 4% to 85% since the fines were introduced. But only 40% of those who signed up since October have "filled out a required health risk questionnaire". And only a meager "10 percent have completed the two online wellness lessons required by the HEM." Maybe there's a good reason the online lesson participation is so low (e.g., website technical problems), but on the face of it 10% is embarrassingly low. Maybe people forced to sign up are showing their disgust with the PEBB board and its program by refusing to do the lessons.

Should one expect another round of penalties to make the employees who signed up actually complete the two requirements?*

Of course, completing the "requirements" does not mean a change in health lifestyle. The Health Engagement Model FAQ states:
"Q: Do I have to lose weight, quit tobacco or meet any other goal?
The only expectation is that members follow through on their commitment to take the assessment and education steps. No one will be held accountable for a measure of success – just for taking the these steps."
One wonders at the intelligence of people who think health problems are due mainly to ignorance. As though completing a questionnaire and two lessons would suddenly make clear that smoking, drinking, drug taking, and fast foods are not good for one's health. No one has heard those things before, right?

Even putting the equivalent of "You're going to die!" on cigarette packages for decades hasn't eliminated cigarette smoking as a health risk (see question quoted above). So now, with this extra push "tobacco" use will go away? And, as Gary Taubes keeps pointing out, the obese already face becoming social outcasts. So, a questionnaire and online lessons will now do what sometimes severe social sanctions have failed to do?

This would be funny if it weren't such a bald display of unwarranted intrusion in employees' personal lives. That this is only the first step is clear since the program is unproductive as is and can only become effective as it becomes more and more tyrannical.

H/T Oregon Watchdog

*UPDATE: Yes, penalties are coming by the end of March.
"The Workers in Local 3581 are upset about monthly penalties of as much as $35 they must pay if they don't participate in the HEM, which requires them to fill out a detailed online health questionnaire and take two web-based wellness lessons of their choice.

"The deadline for filling out the health questionnaire is March 31. People who have signed up for the HEM but do not finish the survey by the end of the month will face penalties.

"'Those penalties may not seem like a lot to some people, but other folks are barely making ends meet month to month,' [Local 3581 President Joe] Laria said. 'The added penalties of this program can be devastating to a monthly budget.'"
[emphasis added]

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