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STAT News: Ron Goetzel Admits Most Wellness Programs Fail

Do you know whether heartburn pills are safe for long-term use?

Those of you with actual jobs, families, lives etc. may still not have noticed there is a new healthcare/healthcare research daily news publication. Needless to say I noticed on the first day.

It’s free and a summary pops into your mailbox each weekday morning. And, though this publication is only a few months old, they’re already onto the workplace wellness scam (LA Times’ word, not mine).  Most notably, author Sharon Begley got Ron Goetzel, of “Expect a 3-to-1 ROI” fame ($450/$150, scroll to second page), to finally admit WAY more than 90% of wellness programs fail.

Is this a great country or what?

The entire story is here. Trust us we aren’t just being polite when we urge you to read it. Yes, like most reporting should be, it quotes both sides, but it’s easy to read between the lines. It’s even double-spaced.

Highlights (taken out of context; some are quotes from others)

“A startling lack of rigorous evidence that they achieve their stated goals.”

“A lot of things are evidence-based…but wellness is faith-based.”

“Vendors’ ‘research’ has made so many elementary mistakes as to inspire voluminous criticism.”  <blushing>

“Tiny if any benefits…increase in fruit and vegetable consumption [equivalent to] one bite of banana.”

“A quarter-pound of weight loss.” Not unlike Pfizer’s award-winning 3-ounce weight loss.

And of course, Ron Goetzel: “There is a group of about 100 employers whose programs have really smart ingredients…but thousands of others still don’t do wellness right and are not getting good health outcomes.” (Note: We have no clue who is in that “group,” since every recent Koop Award winner has provably fabricated savings. The 2015 winner, McKesson, didn’t even get anyone to lose weight or stop smoking.)

Here’s the clincher: If you do Ron’s math — 100 successful programs divided by “thousands” of failures — you get a failure rate similar to the 90% to 95% that leading wellness apologist Michael O’Donnell also admits to.  Maybe that failure rate is OK when you’re drilling for oil, but what rational business would undertake a program that has a 95% of failing?  As I said during The Great Debate: “That’s not an industry.  That’s a lottery.”

Ron specifically warns against “pry, poke and punish” programs, like the ones he recently endorsed at Highmark (during our debate) and Graco.  Oh, and of course Penn State.

Ron Throws Kate Baicker under the Bus

Ron also invalidated Kate Baicker’s famous “Workplace Wellness Can Generate Savings” 3.27-to-1 ROI meta-analysis, that we and RAND’s Soeren Mattke have already invalidated.  Soeren did it the way a health services researcher would do it, challenging data and methods. I did it the way I do it, simply quoting her own words.  She has never defended this finding, by the way.

As The Incidental Economist noted this morning, meta-analyses are squirrelly, due to bias of the authors.  This particular study was co-authored by one of President Obama’s healthcare advisers, David Cutler. The President needed the Business Roundtable on his side, but the support of the Business Roundtable for ACA was and is conditioned on maintaining corporations’ ability to claw back 30% to 50% of premiums based on wellness participation and outcomes.

And–voila–an article endorsing wellness in a highly respected publication appears, to coincide with the ACA debate. In the immortal words of those great philosophers The Lovin’ Spoonful, do you believe in magic?

Ron added himself to the list of people who doubt Prof. Baicker’s finding. He admitted that: “Many [meaning ‘most’] unsuccessful programs are not reported.”  In other words. that 6-year-old Health Affairs article had a publication bias built on top of an author bias.

Now that You Know Your Program Has Failed…

Hey, I know it’s not always about us, but when you’re ready to sue your wellness vendor for making up all these outcomes and savings etc., we do offer forensic consulting and litigation support.  We always win (actually, settle on very favorable terms).  And the more of this site you read, the more you’ll see why: against these people, it would be impossible to lose.  For them, the only bigger nightmare than facts are their own words.

A brief shout-out to Koop Committee member Debra Lerner on the topic of meta-analyses.  She herself wrote one on wellness…but it has no apparent author bias. Rather it was fastidious in its article selection criteria. Showing that no good deed goes unpunished, her excellent work has rarely been cited, as the wellness industry studiously ignores it.  Here it is.





  1. Tom Emerick says:

    another outstanding post. glad to see Debra Lerner’s article.


  2. Samiam says:

    I’ve never even met you but I can feel you gloating


    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      Not this time. I’ve assumed on many occasions that we’ve stamped out this plague, and that Ron Goetzel has lost all his credibility, that HR people will notice his contradictions, retractions etc. But it never happens. A pickup from a major newspaper would do it. This blog only gets a couple hundred hits a day, way less on weekends. And those are mostly from the Welligentsia.


  3. Alan Miller says:

    I’ve been in the healthcare industry for decades and I can spot a scam at 100 paces. This is a scam


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