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    New York Times: On Campus, a Faculty Uprising Over Personal Data

    The New York Times reports that there are privacy protests at Penn State University over the personal information of university employees:

    Penn State administrators quietly introduced the plan, called “Take Care of Your Health,” this summer in the deadest part of the academic calendar. But that didn’t prevent some conscientious objectors from organizing a protest online and on their campuses, culminating last week in an emotionally charged faculty senate meeting. The plan, they argued, is coercive, punitive and invades university employees’ privacy.

    The plan requires nonunion employees, like professors and clerical staff members, to visit their doctors for a checkup, undergo several biometric tests and submit to an extensive online health risk questionnaire that asks, among other questions, whether they have recently had problems with a co-worker, a supervisor or a divorce. If they don’t fill out the form, $100 a month will be deducted from their pay for noncompliance. Employees who do participate will receive detailed feedback on how to address their health issues.

    At a university where some employees earn less than $50,000 annually, the faculty members contended that an $1,200 annual surcharge for nonparticipation — or $2,400 if the employee has a spouse or domestic partner on the school’s plan when that person has the option of coverage from his or her own employer — amounted to a strong-arm tactic. What’s more, they argued, the online questionnaire required them to give intimate information about their medical history, finances, marital status and job-related stress to an outside company, WebMD Health Services, a health management firm that operates separately from the popular consumer site, WebMD.com. [...]

    Many employers — 36 percent of large companies with wellness programs — use financial incentives to nudge employees to participate, according to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. But Penn State’s plan differs from many in that uses a stick, not a carrot, to sway employee behavior. [...]

    The Penn State questionnaire asks whether employees have recently had problems with a supervisor, a separation or a divorce, their finances or a fear of job loss; another question asks female employees whether they plan to become pregnant over the next year. Although the form requires employees to answer these intimate questions, Highmark officials said the data was protected by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which controls how health plans disclose protected employee health information to employers.

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