It’s hard to imagine HR1313, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, getting any worse press than it has already gotten, but the NYT just published that account –penned by someone who would be a victim of it, in the increasingly unlikely event that it ever gets signed into law.
The name is a bit misleading. HR1313 should be called the Employee DNA Full Disclosure Act.
The Ethical Wellness group has already pilloried this. Ron Goetzel and the rest of the Wellness Ignorati at the Health Enhancement Research Organization have remained stone-cold silent on this, being trapped between the drool-worthy profit potential and the fact that even they realize this is a stupid idea. Yet until now there has been no wellness idea that was considered too stupid for them to support, meaning that this silence is precedent-setting. Remember, these are the folks who want to institute a “fat tax,” and charge for insurance by the pound.
I’ve always liked this magazine — and not just because, when others wouldn’t even acknowledge my existence, they put me on the cover. (“Does he have the cure or is he just the cough that won’t go away?”)
Employers are very fortunate that so many wellness vendors cover so many market niches, to satisfy an employer’s every need. Want to harm your employees? Wellsteps has you covered. If insurance fraud is your thing, there’s Healthfairs USA. Suppose you really have it in for the US Preventive Services Task Force, maybe because you have a repressed childhood memory of being bitten by one of its members. As the leader in flouting USPSTF guidelines, Total Wellness can bite them back.
And, if you prefer a vendor that does nothing, Health Fitness Corporation (HFC) fits the bill:
- They won a Koop award in 2011 for saving massive amounts of money on a program (Eastman Chemical) that by their own admission didn’t exist.
- They won another Koop award for saving the lives of 514 Nebraska state employee cancer victims. Except that it turned out these employees didn’t have cancer.
Yes, when it comes to invalidating their results for doing nothing, HFC is truly a target-rich environment. HFC’s latest? They “saved” $586 per employee on a weight-loss program.
By now you’ve probably guessed that — by their own admission — in this successful weight loss program, these employees didn’t lose weight.
As befits a company that previously didn’t actually run a program but still saved money, and that didn’t actually treat cancer victims who didn’t have cancer but still claimed to save their lives — these employees actually gained 4 ounces. According to HFC, though, they would have gained 13 ounces had it not been for HFC’s Herculean efforts.
The amount employees did not gain? 9 ounces. Saving $586/employee for not gaining 9 ounces works out to $1041/pound of of savings for employee weight not gained. Extrapolating from that result, employees would have to not gain only about five or six pounds to completely wipe out healthcare spending.
This is where the magic happens…
To what does HFC attribute this incredible performance? I’ll let them put it in their own words. And these are definitely their own words. Trust me when I say no one is going to accuse them of plagiarizing these words:
More than half (58.5%) of participants that self-enrolled in the program never completed a coaching session, compared by 18.6% in the group enrolled by a health coach completing no coaching sessions.
English, of course, is one of the five things wellness vendors know the least about. (The other four are arithmetic, data, facts — and, of course, wellness.) So let me translate that into English for you: the majority of self-enrolled “participants” didn’t actually participate. To summarize, most self-enrolled employees didn’t actually participate in a program in which most participants didn’t actually lose weight.
Well, hey, at least they didn’t violate USPSTF guidelines, commit insurance fraud or harm these employees. That’s something, right? And therein lies HFC’s market niche, a positioning inspired by the immortal words of the great philosopher George Costanza: “Everyone else is doing something. We’ll do nothing.”
Wrapping up some old business…
A couple of Saturdays ago, I raised some money for folks with MS — like our colleague, Jon Robison — by climbing to the top of the Hancock Building, the tallest building in New England. This year I clocked in at 13:56, putting me in the top quartile and shaving almost 3 minutes off last year’s 17:15. You may have noticed that 13:56 is more than 3 minutes faster than 17:15, not “almost” 3 minutes faster. Before you attempt to claim your $1000 for spotting my first-ever material error, there was one fewer floor this year, which reduced average times by about 23 seconds.
Age-wise, I kicked some serious thigh.
13:56 earned me the runner-up spot in the 60-and-over cohort, among people from Massachusetts. (A small number of committed souls travel around the country doing these things. Two of them beat me as well.) Second is huge for me — the closest I’ve ever come to winning any contest that didn’t involve knowing massive amounts of useless trivia. Helps that stair-climbing doesn’t require coordination, speed or athletic ability of any kind. Just, as luck would have it, wellness.
Speaking of “closest,” congratulations to Bill McPeck, who came the closest to guessing my time, at 16:45.
And special thanks to Barry Zajac, Fred Seelig and Mitch Collins, who along with an anonymous donor, helped me approach my fundraising goal. (Anyone care to put me over the top?)
ConscienHealth is the go-to site for objective information on the developing understanding of the causes of obesity, as well as reviews of obesity policy. I read it every day and am very impressed with its objectivity. Allotting equal time to each, it reports the good, the bad, and the ugly as regards the science and policy issues surrounding this topic.
That means its next post better be about the good, because I just guest-posted about the bad and the ugly — the corporate-sanctioned weight-shaming that takes the form of workplace wellness, where weight seems to be the only thing that matters these days, and the assumption is that failure to lose weight is a failure of will power.
When my son was little, he had asthma and we didn’t know it. On multiple occasions before he was diagnosed, we would say: “Paul, stop coughing.” We too thought it was a failure of will power. Obviously, we soon learned better, but most of the wellness industry seems to be impervious to the possibility that their antediluvian ideas might possibly be misguided.
Yesterday’s Harvard Business Review blog considered the economics of the now-infamous Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (HR 1313). It had been previously analyzed from the perspectives of privacy and employee recourse. One would think that a measure which failed the latter two tests so miserably would at least show a favorable ROI.
Here is how the economics stack up. Genetic testing costs about $500 per employee (and dependent — don’t forget that children can be tested too). In the best-case scenario $1.44 can be saved, in about two years. That yields an ROI of about 0.0288-to-1. In other words, out of every dollar spent, more than $0.97 is lost. Even by the standards of wellness, these numbers don’t add up.
However, genetic testing makes a ton of economic sense using the strategy made famous by Bravo Wellness, in which a program “provides options for immediate employer cost savings” by being so ridiculously unattractive that employees would rather pay the fine.
Please go to the HBR blog — which is read by exactly the people who would be implementing this program were the bill to pass — and tell them what you think. No need to leave a comment here — everyone who reads this blog has basically the same opinion, differing only in their amount of outrage.
The current issue of Fortune takes a critical look at wellness programs…and how Cummins is leading the way towards a brighter tomorrow. (Did I just say “towards a brighter tomorrow”? Maybe that’s because March is National Cliche Month.) Kudos to Cummins for actually looking at their data and acting accordingly.
This is the way wellness — or anything — should be done. Instead of just spouting cliches (do as I say, not as I do) like “75% of cost is due to chronic disease,” or “we have to incentivize people to lose weight,” you actually look at data, adjust your priorities based on the data, and repeat and refine continuously. In the rest of industry, this is called “standard.” In wellness, this is called “Cummins.”
Cummins is also — no coincidence here — well-represented on the Employee Health and Wellness Code of Conduct too.
This afternoon STATNews followed up with more criticism of HR 1313, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act. As measured by comments to their previous article and the Washington Post’s article, public opinion is running about 999-to-1 against it. That’s a lot even for wellness.
Ryan Picarella, of WELCOA, jumped on this and got way ahead of HERO, which is not opposing it. They can’t. Aetna is a major dues-paying supporter, and Aetna loves genetically screening employees for defects. Naturally they fabricate their outcomes. This time we mean it literally when we say: “Lying is part of wellness vendor DNA.” Aetna even invested in a company to further their dystopian vision, a company ironically named Newtopia.
By contrast, this is the kind of leadership we’ve come to expect from WELCOA, filling the ethical vacuum created by HERO.
But, more importantly, this article is the first media mention of Ethical Wellness, our new website dedicated to putting the wellness back in wellness. You might recall the original Workplace Wellness Code of Conduct. Ethical Wellness has updated it. You can sign on to the website, join and endorse, all at no cost. You can also contribute, separately, and be highlighted as a contributor. Scott Life and Dan Keith have both pitched in $500, as compared by to my $10 (to test the donating mechanism — that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). I’ll be putting in the other $490 shortly. Really. There is also a linkedin group. No mass postings — a true discussion group.
We’ll be talking more about Ethical Wellness in the coming days. for now, it’s about not fining employees for refusing to have their children genetically screened for defects.