The wellness industry is about nothing if not irony. Ironically, wellness vendors and consultants don’t understand irony, so they keep doing and saying things they think are being taken seriously. Ironically, they are being taken seriously, but only by students of irony.
For example, these wellness people don’t understand that it is ironic that employees can be forced to submit to “voluntary” wellness programs, or face fines of thousands of dollars. They say this unabashedly. Whereas when we make an ironic comment, such as: “Wellness vendors make employees happy whether they like it or not,” we do it deliberately.
The May issue of Managed Care displays a cornucopia of unintended irony, in a debate between myself and Harris Allen, of Navistar fame, on the effectiveness of wellness programs in preventing diabetes.
Speaking of Navistar, Mr. Allen was already famous for irony before this debate. He showed Navistar how to claim a wellness ROI of 400-to-1, later reduced to 40-to-1, before jumping again to 400-to-1. That by itself — adding/removing extra zeros in your ROI but claiming it’s real the whole time — is ironic, but that’s not even the ironic part. The irony is that he was concocting these figures even as Navistar itself was making up $4-billion of phony shareholder equity, perhaps including these wellness savings. A lot of the perps (excluding Harris) are ending up in jail over this caper. Ironically, despite his pride in his work on wellness for Navistar, he didn’t cite their results in his counterpoint.
Not being Navistar shareholders ourselves, we found this whole escapade highly amusing, so it is recounted in This Is Your Brain on Wellness, our humor column.
Back to the debate irony. The irony is that, in his attempt to justify wellness, he cited two examples that lead to the opposite conclusion. First, he cited US Preventive Medicine (USPM). USPM did indeed achieve an excellent result, and it is validated by and displayed by the Validation Institute. On that everyone can agree. I myself just wrote a column praising their performance. The thesis of the column: “See, not every wellness vendor fails.”
He cites that exact same company and exact same validation to conclude: “See, wellness vendors can succeed.” Yeah, one wellness company has succeeded while the staggering number of failures — companies that couldn’t get validation or didn’t even bother to apply — is in the thousands, a statistic I noted just yesterday.
Using the same logic as Mr. Allen, one might profile Powerball winners and say: “See? Powerball works.”
The other irony is that he cited the Koop Award-winning companies as examples of successes in preventing diabetes, when — according to their own applications — they basically failed. Ironically, I also cited that very same award in my argument. Specifically, McKesson won an award for preventing diabetes even though its employees’ glucose and BMIs increased. Mr. Goetzel’s and his Koop Award committee cronies never been much for fact-checking, even when the facts are right on the application itself:
The final irony is that Mr. Harris ends his argument with a call for “evidence-based” wellness programs. Ironically, the “evidence” is overwhelming…in the other direction: wellness programs have not avoided a single wellness-sensitive medical admission, according to US government figures. The green line below represents the wellness-exposed population while the red line represents the rest of the country. There is no separation, meaning that the wellness-exposed population has achieved zilch.
Actually, there is slight separation –but ironically it goes the other way. You’d statistically be better off not being exposed to wellness.
This graph is part of my proof of the ineffectiveness of wellness vendors, and allows me to offer a million-dollar reward to anyone who can show wellness doesn’t lose money.
Where did the government get the data for this graph? It was compiled by Truven Health, the division of IBM that — you guessed it, ironically — employs Mr. Goetzel.