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NYT: A first-person account of Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act

Nothing like a first-hand account to drive a point home.

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.

Show your support for ethical wellness by going to the website, and joining our linkedin group.



Workforce Magazine Does It Again

Excellent article on workplace wellness, with a nice shout-out to the Code of Conduct, in Workforce Magazine.

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?”)




Health Fitness Corp Meets Seinfeld: Saves Money by Doing Nothing

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:

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?)

Trouble in the paradise of workplace wellness

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.


Fortune highlights Cummins wellness

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.


Congressional committee votes to allow employers to genetically screen children

We cannot make this stuff up.  HR 1313, The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, has a provision specifically designed to screen children for genetic defects.  Don’t take our word for it.  Here is the language of Section 3(b):

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the collection of information about the manifested disease or disorder of a family member shall not be considered an unlawful acquisition of genetic information with respect to another family member as part of a workplace wellness program.

This wasn’t an oversight due to some obscure language — the entire bill fits on a page. It just passed the House Education and Workforce Committee and is headed to Ways and Means. We need to stop it now.  It basically says, you can ignore the Genetic Information Non-Disclosure Act as long as the genetic testing is part of a wellness program.

Tomorrow, Quizzify will become the first wellness (really, employee health literacy) vendor to formally oppose it, and tell Congress and the Business Roundtable to keep their hands off our children.

Snowballing Opposition to Business Roundtable’s Genetic Testing Bill

Sharon Begley at STATNews broke this wide open. The New York Times followed quickly, with the Washington Post, and New York Magazine also chiming in, More on the way.

If you didn’t see it last time (or click through on a link above), this bill would allow employers to run genetic tests on their employees, as part of wellness programs, and fine employees who don’t submit.

Here is an irony. Though an idea like this would appear to have their fingerprints all over it, the usual suspects at the Health Enhancement Research Organization’s board — Ron Goetzel, Seth Serxner, Paul Terry — had nothing to do with this. I don’t know if that’s because they didn’t think of it, or because none of their board members can make any money off it. Or perhaps it was the reaction to their  “fat tax” idea last year.  One way or another, this is the first horrible wellness idea ever that does not have their fingerprints on it. So kudos to them for not being as unethical, greedy and misanthropic as everybody assumed they were!

Quite the contrary, this idea clearly originates with the Business Roundtable. How do I know?

First, they sponsored legislation with the same exact title in the last session, as a way to pressure the Obama Administration into letting them do administratively exactly what they are trying to do legislatively now.  (Yes, I know lobbying groups don’t “sponsor” legislation, at least in the narrowest sense. However, they own most of the legislators on the relevant committees, so it’s easy to get them to do their bidding. Now just the GOP, but it used to be both parties, back when Democrats mattered.) The difference is, this time they have enough sense to keep a low profile, given the criticism they got last time around.

Second, in the past they have been willing to go to the mat over wellness. Allowing corporations more control over employees is one of their agendas. Saving corporations money is another one. And this genetic testing provision would save tons. No, not by reducing healthcare spending, obviously.  Rather, it would be by increasing forfeitures. The worse the program, the more employees will refuse to submit. And the more employees who don’t participate, the greater the forfeitures.

We are talking a lot of money here. Wellness is roughly an $8-billion industry. Forfeitures? Well, figure an average of $600 in penalties/foregone incentives, about 50% non-participation, and about 70,000,000 employees in wellness programs. That makes forfeitures a $21-billion industry. (Many large corporations view forfeitures as a negative, of course. But the economics for others, for outcomes-based programs, are compelling.)

Hopefully this will all be mooted pretty soon, as opposition is overwhelming to this idea, an idea so stupid that even HERO doesn’t support it.



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