The most comprehensive expose of the “pry, poke and prod” industry is likely to have broken the 1000-download threshold by the time you read this.
Published by the leading law-medicine journal, it is their second-most-popular paper of all time. Curiously, while this is the oldest law-medicine journal in the country and has covered a multitude of topics over many decades, the most popular paper of all time is also a smackdown of pry, poke and prod programs.
Because TSW doesn’t lie (that’s part of the reason we are so unpopular amongst the HERO crowd and its sycophants), I would acknowledge that the methodology they use to measure popularity favors more recently published articles, and ours is “only” a year old. Even so it is quite a feat because, while we are close on the feels of #1, there is a big gap between us and the #3 article.
In the structured world of law, as opposed to the “Wild West” of wellness, there are rules. That’s why I chose the leading law-medicine venue for this expose.
One rule of evidence is that some of the best evidence — one of the few exceptions to the hearsay exclusion — is what’s known as an “admission against interest.” An admission against interest is “a statement by a party that, when uttered, is against the party’s pecuniary, proprietary, or penal interest.” It’s even more compelling if it is captured electronically, as on a live mic, or in print.
The best example is Robert Durst accidentally admitting that he killed his wife during a bathroom break while being interviewed for a documentary, when he was still miked. You’d have to be, as Larry David might say, pretty pretty pretty pretty stupid to make admissions against interest when you are miked or in print.
One would think.
And yet the wellness industry’s entire modus operandi is to do exactly that. All that remains is for someone like me to point these things out, take a screen shot (the equivalent of Durst being miked), and then sit back, make some popcorn, and watch them react. Reacting is also a form of evidence. Reacting the way a guilty person would react is prima facie evidence of guilt. (To use the examples from the TSW landing page, think OJ and the white Bronco or Lance Armstrong and just about anything he said or did after being accused.)
Needless to say, the wellness industry’s very stable geniuses never step out of character when it comes to guilty reactions. This runs the gamut. Sometimes, as with Bravo, they pull down the incriminating screenshot immediately after being outed. Or, as with Interactive Health, they simply excise the incriminating data from their “research report” and call it a “research summary.” (And also they try to bribe me not to talk about them any more. I’m just sayin’…)
Or, as with Wellsteps, they act out with unsupported and creatively spelled recriminations.
Or sometimes simply trying to erase history. This is the specialty of Ron “The Pretzel” Goetzel, twisting and turning his words to do exactly that, not realizing that we keep screenshots. Here is the “before” and “after” picture of him erasing the smoking-gun evidence that a program’s “impact” was due entirely to separation into participants-vs-non-participants rather than pry, poke and prod. Note that from 2004 to 2006, separation between participants and non-participants increased almost 20% — before there was even a program to participate in.
Before (what really happened):
In order to maintain the fiction that participants-vs-non-participants is a valid study design, Ron simply removed the labels from the x-axis:
Lest anyone domiciled in a state where marijuana is now legal think the first one was a mistake and was corrected as soon as they noticed, they actually repeatedly reprinted and reused the original in many forums, like this one:
Sometimes, and this was my favorite of Ron “The Pretzel” Goetzel’s twists and turns, he literally rewrote history, in the form of forging a letter from the Governor of Nebraska, once he admitted the initial claim of saving the lives of 514 cancer victims was exposed as a fraud:
Here is your assignment: pass this along to everyone you know and ask them to read the article. Then hopefully it will be time to write the history of wellness the way it should be written. And keep a screenshot in case Goetzel tries to rewrite it.
Four of the most stable genius vendors in the wellness industry have penned a letter to Montana’s junior senator, in which their usual wellness savings propaganda — contrary to all evidence, of course — ends with a plea to confirm EEOC appointees who they hope will institute new rules by January designed to allow them to continue to harass employees in order to enhance their own revenue streams.
Being wellness vendors, naturally they got the facts wrong. Even if a new chairperson were appointed, the EEOC has already said it won’t issue rules by January. Besides, the idea of just adding a staff member and then immediately issuing rules is ludicrous. Anyone with any insight into how the rulemaking process works knows that’s not how the rulemaking process works.
Facts and insights are two of the many things wellness vendors have trouble comprehending, along with data, integrity, math, and — as we’ll see below — irony. (And, also, as we’ll see below, wellness.)
Their specific language:
Without clear guidance from the EEOC, we fear a Wild West of litigation could re-emerge as did it prior to the EEOC guidelines…jeopardizing programs that are improving the health of America’s workforce.
For months, we have been urging companies to take an obvious and painless step — requiring no government regulation or intervention or plaintive pleas to seemingly random junior senators from seemingly random states — to insulate themselves from this pending “Wild West” litigation.
Specifically, by offering alternative vendors such as Quizzify to indemnify themselves from this possibility, employees save money immediately and educate employees at the same time they avoid liability.
Having to offer Quizzify would be these vendors’ worst nightmare (since most employees would much rather learn something useful than be screened and told to eat more broccoli), and yet the letter’s four signatories are probably the four vendors most likely to be sued by employees if they don’t offer Quizzify as an alternative. Let’s look at each in turn.
Bravo is the only vendor in the wellness industry to publicly brag about how much “immediate employer cost savings” can be obtained by fining employees who decline to have the stuffing screened out of them in violation of all US Preventive Services Task Force guidelines. Of course, Bravo’s program itself saves no money according to its own findings. There is also a question about their financial solvency, since they apparently can’t afford an internet connection.
Health Fitness Corporation
Health Fitness Corporation (HFC) bragged incessantly about its “life-saving, cost-saving catches” of 514 Nebraska state employees who had cancer. This was fairly easy to accomplish because it turned out, as HFC later admitted that they didn’t have cancer in the first place. (Ron Goetzel kindly forged a portion of a letter from Nebraska’s Governor to replace the old braggadocio with the new admission. I have to give him credit for loyalty here. He was willing to risk a felony charge in order to support his friends.)
Bragging about how many sick employees they hyperdiagnose is a pillar of the wellness industry. In this case, HFC found all these false positives likely because they “waived” screening guidelines so that anyone of any age could get a colonoscopy, and sent out solicitations featuring a model way too young to be indicated for one.
“Waiving” screening guidelines is the wellness industry equivalent of “waiving” the minimum age requirement for a driver’s license. Fortunately for the very stable geniuses in the wellness industry, there is no regulation requiring wellness vendors to understand what they are doing, and they take full advantage of that loophole.
HFC also saved 20% on a wellness program with Eastman Chemical. This was also quite easy to accomplish because it turned out they didn’t even actually have to implement the program. Simply splitting the group into participants and non-participants did the trick. As you can see from their Koop Award application below, the program already “saved” about 20% between 2004 and 2006 during the baseline period, before they started giving employees the aptly named “treatment.”
The Incidental Economist was very impressed with this study design. (Not!) But I’ll tell you who really was impressed: Ron Goetzel. He gave HFC Koop Awards for both studies. For those who are not familiar with the it, the Koop Award recognizes the most stable geniuses in the wellness industry who are also sponsors of the Koop Award.
Wellness Corporate Solutions
Along with whining about how “shrill” I am (examples being…?), Wellness Corporate Solutions is worth “siting” (add English to the list of things wellness vendors don’t understand) for its crash-dieting contests, in which employees binge and then starve themselves to win prizes. Lately they’ve added a new twist: water-drinking contests. Obviously the first is bad for you. Overhydration turns out to be a bad idea. It doesn’t exactly enhance your productivity, if you catch my drift. Oh, yeah, and you also have to make sure you don’t die.
Viverae may or may not harm employees. Obviously it fabricates its savings (claiming a $739/employee savings on a health score improvement of 2.4% creates an industry-leading Wishful Thinking Multiplier of 307), but catching a vendor lying is dog-bites-man in this industry. The more amusing thing is their “savings guarantee” which, this being the wellness industry, doesn’t guarantee savings for many reasons, not the least of which is there are none. You also have to “require” employees to submit to screens. No wonder they are worried about being sued.
Here is a guarantee of my own: I guarantee (and will put all consulting fees at risk) that I can prove that if Viverae says you saved anything, you didn’t.
Here’s another guarantee: while hiring these wellness vendors may very well get you sued, this one flyer (plus the Quizzify indemnification) will prevent that from happening.
Arkansas recently contracted with an out-of-state vendor called Catapult Health to come in to the state’s schools and “play doctor” with the teachers, asking them personal questions, taking their blood and then telling them everything that’s wrong with them. This is a classic example of a “pry, poke and prod” program.
This is followed by admonishments to take more steps and eat more broccoli. They then refer teachers into lifestyle and disease management programs “at record rates.”
Sounds terrible, but the good news is that this program isn’t going to cost taxpayers anything because, as Catapult Health’s website says:
Phew! At least it’s free to taxpayers because Catapult’s expenses and profits are “already in your budget” and “fees are processed through your health plan.”
Except that the state of Arkansas is its own health plan. There is no “Don’t worry. Insurance will pay for it” here. The state is self-insured, meaning they pick up the tab, not some nameless insurance company.
But, hey, at least this program will save money, right?
The return-on-investment for the state is allegedly 3.27-to-1, as shown by the so-called “Harvard Study,” conducted by Katherine Baicker.
Except that the Harvard study has been proven wrong, not just by the nonprofit, nonpartisan highly respected RAND Corporation (and I myself chimed in as well), but by an ace researcher named Damon Jones, part of the prestigious National Bureau for Economic Research. His work showed that wellness accomplishes virtually nothing other than the expenditure of money. (Don’t worry—insurance will pay for it.)
But, hey, maybe Prof. Jones is wrong. After all, why should he care what Prof. Baicker thinks, right?
Um, because he reports to her? Yep, he’s an associate professor at the exact same school of public health where she is now dean. Just guessing here, but it would seem a subordinate would have to be pretty darn sure of his findings (and they are rock solid, and completely in agreement with all the other recent research, summarized here) to publicly humiliate his own dean.
Even Prof. Baicker doesn’t defend her findings any more. She says: “It’s too early to tell.” That means she is running away from her very widely cited signature study, upon which essentially the entire wellness industry’s economic justification is based. This would be like Arthur Laffer, whose Laffer Curve created supply-side economics, which has been used to justify two tax cuts, saying “well, maybe it’s not right. I dunno. Let’s wait and see.”
But, hey, at least forced wellness improves employee health, right?
Apparently not. Forcing people to get annual wellness checkups doesn’t benefit them, according to the New York Times, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and Consumer Reports. (Before dismissing the credibility of those sources due to possible political bias, keep in mind that Newsmax, The Federalist, and Laura Ingraham hate “pry, poke and prod” programs too.)
Further, sending “record rates” of employees into lifestyle and disease management is classic hyperdiagnosis – braggadocio-fueled misunderstandings of the arithmetic of lab results, resulting in large numbers of people getting told they need coaching and care they don’t want or, in general, need. Nothing makes a wellness vendor happier than to hyperdiagnose as many employees as possible.
But, hey, maybe teachers are a special case. Maybe the impact of “pry, poke and prod” programs is different for them?
It sure is. The single school district for which the data has been compiled is Boise, Idaho. According to the wellness vendor’s own data, the health of the teachers got somewhat worse as a result of this pry, poke and prod program. (The vendor, an outfit called Wellsteps, also admitted that they flouted clinical guidelines and fabricated their only positive outcome. They also previously admitted that costs went way up as a result of their program. They later suppressed that admission. Wellness vendors are not known for their integrity.)
So the health of teachers may deteriorate, creating more medical expense. but don’t worry. Insurance will pay for it.
But, hey, at least the teachers like it, right?
According to Catapult, employees love them. Ask the employees and you might get a different impression. indeed, I was tipped off to this program by an Arkansas teacher who hates it, like most of her colleagues do — and that’s before they learn that they are actually paying for it…keep reading.
Obviously if teachers wanted to submit to a “pry, poke and prod” program, the state wouldn’t have to threaten them with massive fines – almost $1000/year, which appears to be close to a record for any pry, poke and prod program anywhere — for refusing to let a private, out-of-state corporation play doctor on them at state expense.
But, hey, at least the state taxpayers save money by fining the teachers who don’t want to play doctor, right?
Actually, wellness makes claims costs go up, probably by more than the fines. There are lots of unneeded lab tests and other tests. For instance, the state of Connecticut admitted that in addition to throwing away all its money on the actual wellness program, they spent more on health care. The state comptroller who administered the program said the increased spending was “a good thing.” I guess he wasn’t worried because insurance was paying for it.
But, hey, at least the teachers don’t pay for it.
Actually they do. The state’s human resources department brilliantly figured out that they could launder their wellness spending by hiring this outfit. By paying extra to Catapult (a multiple of what an effective wellness program would cost), the state is able to pick up the tab for wellness using the extra paperwork of a medical claim, as opposed to an outsized administrative expense in a separate line item. The latter would clearly need to be picked up by the taxpayers…and the state would have an incentive to control this highly visible figure.
By contrast, paying for “pry, poke and prod” as a medical claim will never be noticed, like Steve McQueen and David McCallum sprinkling the dirt from the tunnel around the stalag. On the other hand, it will increase overall medical spending by 2-3% (the cost of the screening plus the added hyperdiagnosis expenses).
Here comes the evil genius part: at the next contract negotiation, the state can limit wage increases (or reduce benefits) by pointing out how high the health spending is.
So the teachers get pried, poked and prodded, hyperdiagnosed with hidden illnesses most of them don’t have – all against their will…and then they have to pay for the privilege in reduced wages.
Wow…the teachers are getting screwed. But, hey, at least they can’t sue the state, right, so taxpayers won’t have to pick up that bill as well?
Starting in January, this program will be in blatant violation of two laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act. Those laws disallow forced wellness checkups, but allow so-called “voluntary” ones.
Until recently, “voluntary” meant “do wellness or pay a big fine” like this one. But thanks to a lawsuit by AARP, the rules are changing in January so that “voluntary” must mean voluntary, like a dictionary would define the word. (This summary has the links to all you need to know about the case.) To get these fines back, teachers will be able to sue the state, possibly even as a class action, and possibly being awarded punitive damages. Exposure to lawsuits could cost the state millions more in addition to its current expenditure on Catapult Health.
And that doesn’t even cover the costs of a possible teacher walkout, like the one in West Virginia that was spurred in part by – you guessed it – their wellness program.
But, don’t worry. Insurance will pay for it.
In the immortal words of the great philosopher Yogi Berra, it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.
However, in this case the future is pretty easy to predict: The EEOC “Safe Harbor” for clinical wellness programs ends in less than 6 months, period. Time is running out in the race to put non-clinical options in place in 2018 (to drive the 2019 premium differential)…and yet many employers, thanks to the obfuscation of their “pry, poke and prod” vendors, don’t even realize the race is on.
Problem is, too many employers listen to their wellness vendors, who largely seem to be missing the gravity of this situation altogether. Mind you, these are the same very stable geniuses who also managed to miss the rehabilitation of eggs, fats, and dietary cholesterol, the entire opioids epidemic, and the part of fifth grade where the teacher explained that a number can’t go up and down at the same time. So naturally they are on track to miss the biggest wellness event since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
By contrast, the most recent BenefitsPro just devoted its lead article to this impending event. Main takeaways:
- Employers are “not likely” (that’s an understatement) to see EEOC rules allowing a safe harbor to be put in place for 2019, and therefore they are “in limbo.”
- “Should employers continue with current programs, considering the risk of EEOC enforcement or private legal action, or should affected employers come up with a plan B?”
- Plan B should include “indemnification options” by vendors such as…hmmm…let’s take a looksee at who they recommend…ah! Quizzify.
- Screening doesn’t work anyway, so why do it when it could just create liability absent that indemnification?
There is, they added, some further urgency because “it’s unclear whether safe harbor protection will be removed from 2019 premium differentials based on 2018 screenings, or only based on 2019 screenings and health reimbursement accounts.” In other words, you need to get your screening-alternative plan in place now, or else you may lose the entire premium differential in 2019. (Meaning an employee can obtain the best health plan option even if he/she refuses to be screened in 2018 and you didn’t offer Quizzify as an alternative, to render the screening voluntary.)
Of course, as in every other article about the EEOC rules, it is de rigueur to quote a screening vendor urging employers to keep their heads firmly anchored in the sand. In this case, the quoted vendor is urging employers to “continue to be compliant with the existing regulatory environment and monitor developments.” (At least this is better than Bravo, which accused us of spreading “rumors, chatter and fiction” about the 2018 sunsetting. Our crime? The same as usual in wellness: we were honest and accurate, two adjectives that could never be applied to most wellness vendors.)
The problem with this quoted vendor’s sentiment? There are no “developments” left to “monitor.” The EEOC has already said what it intends to do to preserve the employer safe harbor in 2019 (nothing), leaving employers who want a safe harbor no alternative other than to seek indemnification, such as Quizzify’s.
Therefore, regardless of what screening vendors want you to do (which is more screening, surprisingly), learn what is certain to happen in 2019. Otherwise you’re flying blind. And in the immortal words once again of Yogi Berra, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.