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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.
Along with the overwhelming preponderance of the decidedly un-rigged media establishment, the AARP has emerged as the unlikely vox populi in the battle against “pry, poke and prod” programs and their ethos of “overscreening today, overscreening tomorrow, overscreening forever.”
The reason for the AARP’s interest is that often it is the older employees who have trouble losing the weight or keeping their blood pressure down — and hence get disproportionately penalized. Indeed, those two metrics do rise with age, a factoid that the wellness industry penalty/incentive schedule rarely takes into account. (Along with smoking and family history, age is the #1 risk factor for heart disease and other related medical events. What do these risk factors have in common? Wellness programs don’t change the first, can’t inquire about the second, and ignore the third. And people wonder why these programs don’t work.)
For instance, you don’t see age mentioned at all in the shocking anti-fat-employee jihad recently proposed by the American Journal of Health Promotion. Thank goodness that trade magazine has a low “impact factor,” and no one will notice or care about this rant. Otherwise, older employees would be in a lot of trouble. Further, the Johnson & Johnson Fat Tax proposal, which fortunately appears to have been stillborn, would have made employers less likely to keep older employees in the workforce as well, for similar reasons.
The AARP just yesterday filed suit against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The suit addresses both:
- Whether workers’ medical information is at risk; and
- Whether these programs are truly voluntary.
The former is less important, in our opinion. While Staywell managed to get itself hacked, most information that employees submit is fabricated (as we learned from Wellsteps’ Boise program, where almost no one admitted to smoking or drinking) and fairly useless to hackers. Or, for that matter, to employees or anyone else. So ironically, the best defense for wellness proponents against the first charge is that this isn’t medical information. It’s garbage, so who cares whether it’s at risk? (I’m being a bit facetious here.)
However, the second is clearly an issue. The Business Roundtable (BRT) has strongly pressured both the legislative and executive branches of government regarding wellness in general, and the definition of “voluntary” participation in particular.
And if you don’t think the BRT owns the former branch, consider the title of the Senate Committee “hearing” on wellness. It was not: “Do Wellness Programs Work?” Instead it was titled: “Employer Wellness Programs: Better Health Outcomes and Lower Costs.”
Title optics aside, obviously the BRT and their cronies at the US Chamber of Commerce have no interest in whether these programs actually work. (If they did, they’d have abandoned them by now, or else claimed their $1-million reward for showing they’ve worked, a reward which we have specifically offered to them.) What they are most decidedly interested in, though, is giving their member corporations the right to collectively withhold billions from employees who refuse to let their employers “play doctor.”
In classic doublespeak in order to avoid EEOC sanctions, the BRT had the feds redefine the word “forced” to mean “voluntary,” for the purposes of wellness. Non-participants (or in the jihad described above, people who don’t lose the weight) can be fined quite literally thousands of dollars. How is this voluntary?
The some degree, the EEOC’s hands are tied by Congress and the White House, because they can only write the regulations and interpret the laws. They don’t make laws. And there is no law that protects employees from harmful programs like Wellsteps. So the AARP can only work around the edges of wellness, with challenges to privacy and voluntariness, rather than address the elephant in the room, which is that many wellness programs flout guidelines and harm employees…and there’s not a thing anyone can do about it.
Until then, we wish AARP the best. Perhaps for the definition of “voluntary,” their attorney should cite the Urban Dictionary:
A word means whatever I want it to mean, neither more nor less.”
Like George Orwell and Humpty Dumpty, the wellness industry (thanks largely to the Business Roundtable pressuring the EEOC) has now managed to redefine wellness programs as their opposite: “voluntary” now means “required,” in the sense that if you don’t volunteer to submit to “wellness or else” you could be fined up to about $3600 (if you spouse is on your insurance), which is a little less than 10% of the median annual wage, and exceeds the amount in many people’s savings.
But the wellness program is still voluntary, according to the EEOC. Or as Surviving Workplace Wellness says: “wellness programs will make employees happy whether they like it or not.”
These wellness people have experience at redefining words as their opposites. Health Fitness Corporation’s Dennis Richling redefined “514 Nebraska state employees didn’t have cancer at all” to “we made life-saving catches of 514 employees with cancer.” He referred to this subtle difference as “semantics.”
Jon Robison and I just posted a “Pulse” on the wellness industry’s creative use of the English language, which rivals their creative use of fifth-grade math.
We hope you hate it, where “hate” means “love.”
A good rule of thumb is that when Ron Goetzel publishes something, you should reach the opposite conclusion. TEASER: In this case, had you done the opposite 5 years ago of what he (retrospectively) recommends now, you’d be sitting on a pile of cash.
Yesterday, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, fresh off its Aetna wellness DNA collection debacle (which, in all fairness, one of their board members did candidly admit should never have passed peer review — see the comments), published Ron Goetzel’s article claiming that Koop Award-winning companies outperform the averages, thus showing that outstanding wellness programs “favorably affect a company’s stock valuation.”
Try telling that to Gary Loveman. He was the head of the Business Roundtable’s Health and Wellness Committee. As such, he was the biggest supporter of wellness among all corporate CEOs. He even leveraged the Business Roundtable’s formidable financial resources to convince a bunch of senators to take time off from their real jobs in order to host a fact-finding committee hearing with the title: “Employer Wellness Programs: Better Health Outcomes and Lower Costs.”
Ask Mr. Loveman how his company, Caesar’s Entertainment, is enjoying their bankruptcy proceedings. (He might not know because he is no longer allowed to run the company.)
But we digress…
Let’s look at what happens if you had invested in other companies with “outstanding” wellness programs five years ago. Below is the entirety of companies that have won Koop Awards since 2010 — all of which made up their outcomes, as we’ve noted — that are also publicly traded. (There might be 1 or 2 more. The Koop website is down this morning, so I am going off the list I have.) In each case we tracked 5 years of stock prices ending yesterday, and compared to industry indexes. We’ve linked to the indexes.
2010 — Pfizer.
Pfizer stock has risen about 85% — but simply investing in a drug company index would have made you a 156% return.
Highlight of their wellness program: participating employees lost 3 ounces over a year while non-participants gained 2 ounces. Or maybe it was the other way around.
2011 — Eastman Chemical
Eastman Chemical has outperformed the chemical industry index by 33% over this period.
Highlight of their wellness program: Ron Goetzel doctored the original application recently and then covered it up, because this was the company that “showed savings” 2 years before the program even started. Removing the embarrassingly accurate x-axis labels of the original while claiming “the original is still online and available for review” would have been a very effective cover-up had we not kept a screenshot of the original original.
2013 — Dell (the 2012 winners are not publicly traded)
Dell underperformed the tech stock index by 31% before it stopped trading in October of 2013. (We don’t comment on their wellness program so as not to embarrass them, so there aren’t highlights.)
2014 — British Petroleum
Long after underperforming due to the oil spill before this most recent 5-year period, they continued to underperform the oil stock index by 13%.
Highlight of their wellness program: Mercer “validating” outcomes that were not only mathematically impossible, but were also 100 times greater than what the vendor itself, Staywell, had said was possible. Staywell never explained this discrepancy, shockingly.
2015 — McKesson
There is no good drug distribution stock price index, but McKesson did outperform the drug stock price index by 12%. The closest thing to an “index” might be its close competitor, Cardinal Health. McKesson outperformed them over the 5-year period, but over the most recent 3-year period, Cardinal did somewhat better.
Highlight of their program: They boast one of the highest tobacco use rates in the country, but that didn’t stop them from winning an award because employees who attended a bevy of Weight Watchers meetings lost a few ounces.
Put it all together, and you would have been much better off shorting these companies and hedging with the industry index than actually buying stock in them. As noted at the beginning of this article, had you done this hedge, you’d be sitting on a pile of money right now. As they say in the stock market, the only person as valuable as the person who is always right is the person who is always wrong. Perhaps Mr. Goetzel has a future in securities analysis.
Every now and then I come across wellness news that makes even me — jaded, cynical, sarcastic me — howl with delight. I don’t mean that the people supporting wellness do something worthy of praise. I mean they do or say things to support my oft-stated observation that wellness proponents are their own worst enemies.
Just do an inventory on this page from the Business Roundtable, and you will see what I mean. These are their wellness highlights. The mind reels at the prospect of what the lowlights might look like.
Caesar’s Entertainment, which actually has two entries (here and here). Unfortunately for Caesar’s employees, their program is as bankrupt as their company. Their major accomplishment after several years of tilting at wellness isn’t a dramatic reduction in wellness-sensitive medical events, which either they don’t know enough to measure or else the results are so disappointing they decided not to announce them.
Here’s the most they can say: “Early stage clinical results indicate that employee participants are healthier, controlling BMI, improving glucose values and lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.” Unfortunately, in healthcare, early stage results often go up in smoke, sort of like the second-hand smoke that Caesar’s casino employees breathe while their managers, when they not at bankruptcy court hearings, try to financially coerce them to be healthier.
Memo to the Business Roundtable: You might want to put someone jointly in charge of your wellness committee whose company doesn’t poison their employees. I’m just sayin’…
CVS Caremark. CVS is the company whose shot at wellness was heard ‘round the world when they became the first high-profile company to get sued by one of their own employees. CVS also has two entries on this page; the second one is here. Their major claim to fame is that they increased wellness program participation from 60% to 90% of employees. Of course they did; they went from a $180 “incentive” in 2010 to a $600 penalty in higher health insurance premiums in 2013 if you don’t take your wellness medicine. Heck, even I joined my wife’s employer’s wellness program after they threatened to hit us with an even larger wellness avoidance penalty. Later this week, I’ll be writing up a new episode in my traipse over the wellness landscape.
Memo to Business Roundtable: You might wanna put someone jointly in charge of your wellness committee whose company isn’t being sued by its own employees. I’m just sayin’…
AT&T. AT&T’s claim to wellness fame is that they have a disease management program. Hello? Hello? Can you hear me now? Disease management isn’t wellness. It’s managed care.
Honeywell. Honeywell will be the first inductee into the Wellness Hall of Fame. It is one of three companies to be sued by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) for violating federal law by implementing a program promoted by federal law. (The other two are Orion Energy and Flambeau, Inc.). Honeywell’s wellness news is that they have programs to help people make better decisions about surgery (more managed care) and something called “Know Before You Go,” which sounds more like bathroom guidance for preschoolers than health education for adults. You just cannot make this stuff up.
Doing well through wellness. You have to read what’s at this link. It’s a report from 2006-07, meaning that it is the wellness equivalent of a first generation iPhone. In other words, nobody uses one any more. And if you did use one, people would look at you funny.
What does it say about a business leadership group whose pantheon of wellness highlights includes two entries from a failed enterprise, two from active defendants, and one from a company that can’t tell the difference between wellness and managed care, along with a report on wellness that predates not just the ACA law regulating wellness, but even the administration that proposed the law?
I am so glad that I don’t gamble, use Verizon Wireless, and fill my scrips at Walgreens.