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Penn State U. Tries Negative Reinforcement For Employee Health Goals

By David Madden

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (CBS) -- When it comes to making you healthier (and controlling the cost of your health care), what works better -- incentives or penalties?

That question remains open, even as a major Pennsylvania employer changes tactics.

Perhaps you've heard of businesses offering cash for employees willing to lose weight or quit smoking.  That's the "incentive" side of the equation.

But now, Penn State University is trying penalties to force its employees to become more health-conscious.  The school will be adding surcharges to the insurance premiums of those who fail to fill out online health assessments or submit to required tests.

That's not making people happy in Happy Valley.

But will it work? Professor Harald Schmidt, of the Department of Medical Ethics and Policy at the University of Pennsylvania (below right), thinks... perhaps.

(Prof. Harald Schmidt. Photo provided)

"It is quite doable," he points out.  "The question, though, still is, will that improve health?  And that we don't know until we can validate it, and I'm not sure that there are provisions in place to validate these programs."

Schmidt says many businesses have tried both "carrot" and "stick" approaches to improving employee health, but there has been little independent data available to prove which is better.

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