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Maryland doesn't trust state employees to manage their health

Is Big Brother in the doctor's office with Maryland state employees?

The Big Brother intrusive Wellness Program being implemented this year as part of the State Employee and Retiree Health Benefits Plan is as draconian an interference with the lives and personal freedoms of state employees as we have ever witnessed.

State employees have all been given a mandate to conform to this new initiative, which purports to cut costs by requiring participants to "better manage" their health, or pay extra for our health benefits. This program has no data to support its value, and it costs employees — and their doctors —- time and money. Much paper will be shuffled with no effective evaluation of the processes. Perhaps some people seek this kind of paternalism, but many of us are adults and do not. It is one thing to offer and something else indeed to mandate and punish.

We are appalled that insurance plans and their "disease management staffs" along with the state would intrude in the relationship and decisions of doctor and patient. Does an anonymous administrator presume a state employee's own doctor has never suggested wellness steps he/she should follow? This is nanny state at its finest. We inquired about the data behind using these coercive Wellness Plans and data related to either disease reduction or dollars saved (by any person or organization). In response to our request, we were sent only a table of the insurance costs for people with selected chronic conditions. Notice that this is a different set of data. The Wellness Plans are an experiment that intrusively costs state employees like us, at Towson University, time, money and hassles with no proven benefit.

One of us teaches adult development and aging and about wellness and chronic health conditions, conducted post-doctoral training at NIH, and, assisted by advice from a doctor, practices all wellness activities recommended. Doctors and patients should themselves decide such wellness activities without any interference and carrots or (primarily) sticks imposed by bureaucracies.

If you are part of the program, you must work with a doctor who is part of the program. Note that this may not be your chosen primary physician. Based on personal experience, the "Disease Management" involves calls and monitoring from an anonymous medical person who may not understand your chronic conditions, but is still ready to "manage" them for you without apparent regard to what you and your doctor have already decided to do over years of managing the condition.

If you decide not to accede to the allegedly well-intended program by 2016, with its Orwellian labels such as "Healthy Activities" and "Disease Management Program," the disincentives are severe: You will be penalized with annual surcharges, as summarized below:

•2016: $50 per person, per year, for failure to complete Health Activities;

•2017 forward: $75 per person, per year, for failing to complete Healthy Activities and $250 per person, per year, for failure to participate actively in a "Disease Management Program."

Nowhere is there any credible evidence provided that there will be medical benefits accruing from state control of medical behavior, but even if there were, the utter complete control of outside unchosen agents' caring for patients' medical needs is contrary to basic freedoms. If a doctor argues that you need a drug or physical activity, shall the state of Maryland enfranchise "enforcers" to ensure you follow their advice?

There may be a more state-controlled program in the land of the free, but it is hard to imagine one more inimical to individual freedom.

Jan Sinnott is the author of over 100 books and articles on adult development and aging and has served on Towson University's faculty for more than 35 years; her email is jSinnott@towson.edu. Richard E. Vatz is a professor at Towson University and the longest-serving member of the University Senate. His email is rvatz@towson.edu.

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