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Congressional candidate running hard against forced wellness

In this hyperpartisan era, conservatives and liberals agree on only one thing: forcing employees into outcomes-based wellness programs is one of the worst ideas in the history of ideas. If you scroll down our feature In The News, you’ll see wellness gets equal treatment by right-wing publications like Newsmax and The Federalist as well as left-wing publications like Slate and Mother Jones.

Opposing forced wellness has already propelled one candidate into elective office: Matthew Woessner, whose leadership in Penn State’s faculty revolt against the punitive “pry, poke and prod” plan proposed by Highmark and Ron Goetzel, was elected President of the university’s faculty senate. Matthew is a self-described Republican libertarian.

In keeping with the bipartisan nature of wellness, it is fitting that the first Congressional candidate to take on the wellness industry is, conversely, a Democrat, Jenny Marshall. Jenny (as she likes to be called) is running against Virginia Foxx (R-NC5), who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. A powerful combination of this lucrative committee chairmanship, lack of ethics and a gerrymandered “safe” district (at least until voters find out about this bill), allows Foxx to “represent” the American Benefits Council rather than voters in her district. Indeed, I suspect she has nary a single constituent who supports employees being pried, poked and prodded into submission. It is not at all clear how this bill would benefit her district.

Any controversy over whether forced wellness saves a nickel or even improves health has long since been laid to rest. Hence, the American Benefits Council’s enthusiasm for forced wellness is all about making programs so onerous and unappealing that employees prefer to pay the $1000 fines rather than be subjected to the indignity and potential harms of being pried, poked and prodded by unlicensed, unregulated wellness vendors.

On the other hand, these programs can be very lucrative for employers, who can claw back large chunks of their insurance premiums forfeited by non-compliant employees. Vendors have already figured out how to offer “immediate savings” for employers through collecting these fines from employees.

Unless Foxx’s bill becomes law, this lucrative, misanthropic, anti-employee loophole will be closed December 31, thanks to the ruling in AARP v. EEOC, which will prevent employers from forcing employees into “voluntary” wellness programs.

Foxx’s HR1313, known colloquially as the Employee DNA Full Disclosure Act, would override this common-sense federal court decision.  Worse, it would allow employers to force not only employees but their children into these programs. And not just prying, poking and prodding them, but collecting their DNA as well. Yep, your children’s DNA is fair game if this bill passes.  It is so onerous that even much of the wellness industry opposes it, though they stand to benefit from it.

It is headed for a floor vote sometime this spring, having been voted out of her committee on — get ready — a straight party-line vote.  (So much for the GOP standing for individual rights.)


Jenny Marshall fights back

Jenny has posted a summary of this bill right on her campaign website.  Asked for a comment, she replied: “Foxx’s bill could very well be the worst proposed legislation in the history of Congress. Its intrusiveness would make Orwell blush. I can’t figure out why she would want to invade the privacy of her constituents like this, other than raking in big dollars from lobbyists. For too long now, Foxx has turned a deaf ear to the wants and needs of the people of our district, and for that betrayal should be voted out of her seat.”


You can donate to her campaign

If this bill passes, the very stable geniuses at “outcomes-based” wellness vendors like Bravo, Interactive Health, Wellsteps, Corporate Wellness Solutions, and Staywell will be able to trample employee rights to privacy, fine them and harm them — for no reason other than to enrich their own coffers, and those of their corporate overlords. Absent this legislation, millions will be thrilled to be freed from their anti-employee jihads on December 31 — and employers can find kinder, gentler conventional programs, a la Redbrick or unconventional ones like Limeade (and/or Quizzify, of course) instead.

The way to keep this bill from passing? Vote Foxx out of office.  Shed no tears for her. She will get a lucrative job, possibly representing the American Benefits Council in their quest to collect fines from employees — just like she does now.

Only starting in 2019 her paycheck will come directly from them, as opposed to indirectly, as it does now.

The donation link to Jenny Marshall is here.

How to cheat in a corporate weight loss contest (SPOILER ALERT: This gets gross)

Attention, employees who want to learn how to cheat in a corporate wellness contest: for the actual cheating hints, skim down to: “How to Cheat in a Crash-Dieting Contest.” The suggestions apply not just to corporate biggest loser contests, but to any corporate weigh-in where money is attached to weight. (This post is actually intended for your company’s HR people who for some reason think encouraging you to binge and then crash-diet is a good idea and don’t realize wellness is an obvious scam.)

Further, the law has changed (as of 2019) and you can now sue your employer if they fine you (or give you a high-deductible plan and make you “earn the incentive”) for refusing to participate in biometric screens and other clinical wellness activities. You can contact us for more information.


If we were real journalists here, we’d have killed a lot of trees in the cause of exposing the massive amount of lying and cheating by wellness vendors.  However, as mere bloggers, all we do is kill millions of defenseless electrons.*

And yet we’ve sacrificed nary a single electron to the cause of exposing the massive amount of lying and cheating by the employees themselves.  And massive it is. My very own extended family members are swapping Fitbits around to increase their steps.  Less for the money than for bragging rights about who can game the contest the best.

Indeed, these corporate “challenges” are really mental challenges, not physical ones, to see who can do the best job outsmarting the wellness vendor.  Outsmarting wellness vendors, as past columns have shown, isn’t exactly a heavy lift: we have often observed that the good news about wellness is that NASA employees don’t have to worry about their job security because wellness vendors aren’t exactly rocket scientists.

To that end, the Wall Street Journal wrote an entire article about employees cheating in wellness programs. Apparently, employees are enlisting puppies, hamsters, even power tools and a ceiling fan in their quest to undermine their company’s wellness program. One enterprising employee posted a youtube showing how to cheat on these programs.  A Midwestern cadre of truly dedicated employees took cheating a bit farther than most, and got themselves indicted for defrauding Kansas City out of $300,000 by lying on wellness programs.


30-second shameless plug time

Of course, there is one surefire way to avoid the downside of cheating: design cheating into the program. And that’s exactly what Quizzify does.  The way to cheat on Quizzify is to look up the answers and learn about health literacy — which is exactly what we want employees to do!


How to cheat in a crash-dieting contest

Employees especially like to cheat in crash-dieting contests, enough so that countermeasures are needed. For instance, a vendor named Healthywage is bragging about how it ferrets out “fraudulent participants.”  I figured I’d see what the internet has to offer on corporate biggest loser program cheating, because, after all, these days almost every search generates tons of hits.  I say “almost” because if you search on “honest wellness vendors” and “Wellsteps,” there is only one hit: my observation that the latter could never be confused with the former.

In particular, the search found a group called www.healthstatus.com, which has given this topic altogether too much thought, thankfully. In all fairness to the HealthStatus folks (who do seem very well-intentioned and on the level), before they list their recommendations, they provide a cigarette-type warning label, as these programs richly deserve:

It’s getting to be New Year’s resolution time and many companies will try and “encourage” weight loss with a “Biggest Loser” type contest.  Frankly, this is really a bad idea, as it can create all kinds of bad habits and damaging activities by the participants, as they starve, dehydrate and supplement themselves in an effort to win.

Having gotten the grownup stuff out of the way, here are their “recommendations” for employees whose employers, like Schlumberger, somehow got the impression these contests are a good idea, perhaps because their mothers didn’t listen to enough Mozart when they were in the womb. A few recommendations are fairly harmless, like drink a lot of water starting 3 days early and don’t pee (or do number twosies) before your weigh-in. And, of course, wear heavy clothes, carry lots of change in your pockets etc.  You know, your typical garden-variety dishonesty that is probably woven into the culture of any employer that sponsors these contests.  (These employers think they are “creating a culture of wellness” when in reality they are creating a culture of deceit.)

By contrast, some of these other recommendations boggle our minds, and, having written exposes on the wellness industry for two years now, our minds are not easily boggled:

The day before the weigh-in, ideally about 17 hours or less before your weigh-in time, you want to get yourself a good salty snack.  A bag of chips, you know the ones that if you eat too many your lips hurt from all the salt and a nice tray of cheese and crackers.

For your dinner meal you want to load up on the  proteins and a big glass of whole milk, also, this is a day you want to skip the fiber.  This is one day of eating like this, we don’t encourage it, but a binge day also sets up your metabolism to know that is not starving, and can help in when we start burning fat after the weigh-in.

The day of the weigh-in, minimize your activity, another big glass of  whole milk with your breakfast that contains some salty options will help you retain more water.

“At this point,” they observe, “you should be a big bloated sloshing mess that needs to go to the bathroom really bad. This is the perfect time to get weighed and measured.” They also remind you to accentuate poor posture, since the long-since discredited Body Mass Index measure still preferred by most of these vendors is a height/weight ratio. (HealthStatus also offers hints for contests that use waist circumference.)

In other words, do all the wrong things — eat badly, slouch, and don’t exercise.  Be as unhealthy as possible.  So you’re already obsessing with your weight and abusing your body horrendously in the name of wellness…and the contest hasn’t even started yet!

I hate to leave everyone hanging but HealthStatus hasn’t published the rest of its recommendations yet, meaning advice on how to cheat during the contests themselves.

And a good thing because I don’t know how much more wellness a fellow can take.


Since self-abuse is actually a very serious topic, I would like to step out of character here and offer a few serious notes.  First, no wonder Optum and HERO and other Wellness Ignorati are stonewalling the Employee Health Program Code of Conduct. Nothing violates it more than their cherished corporate crash-dieting contests.  And a particular call-out of the biggest-loser worst offenders: Virgin Pulse (nee ShapeUp), Wellness Corporate Solutions and HealthyWages.  You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, even relative to other wellness vendors like Wellsteps, which had just recently established a new plateau for harming employees, that you people are blasting right through.



*Just for the record, we know that writing blogs does not kill or even injure electrons. And while Keas might find that being used in blog posts stresses them out, we would disagree.  Quite the opposite: if they enroll in wellness programs, they can live to be 100.

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