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The Workplace Wellness Industry’s Body-Shaming Hall of Shame

Note that this personal blog post does not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which I am affiliated, other than the one with which I co-founded.  I am referring, of course, to the Needham Frisbee Club, where everyone is welcome to join and play and become fitter — since fitness at any size, not corporate crash-dieting contests, is the key to health.


By now, many facts are well-known about weight and weight loss programs:

Further, while perhaps not proven, there is growing evidence, also here, and here, that weight cycling may be hazardous to health. (This would likely be particularly true when an employer ties incentives to gaining weight for the first weigh-in in order to lose it by the second weigh-in.)

And, yet, a number of the workplace wellness industry’s very stable geniuses have chosen to body-shame employees.  The individuals and companies listed below are the wellness industry’s leading body-shamers, charter members of the Body-Shaming Hall of Shame. No surprise that wellness luminaries are leading the charge towards body-shaming, as their industry has repeatedly been called words like “sham” and “scam” by Pulitzer Prize-winning media outlets not otherwise known for name-calling.

Where possible, we have provided contact information, that you can use to let the appropriate people know how you feel about endorsing body-shaming in the workplace. Obviously, one can never eliminate discrimination based on body type, but hopefully this exposé, and creating the Body Shaming Hall of Fame, will reverse the trend towards employer support of weight discrimination in wellness programs.


Troy Adams, Wellsteps

Wellsteps is known in general for harming employees, and won a Deplorables Award in 2016 for harassing Boise School District employees. Mr. Adams cemented his and Wellsteps’ candidacy for this list by declaring: “It’s fun to get fat. It’s fun to be lazy.” After receiving many complaints, he took that article down. But he never apologized and Wellsteps continues to pitch “wellness or else” programs in which employees are fined if they can’t lose weight.

Ignorance of physiology (fines and incentives have never cured any disease known to mankind) is quite consistent with the rest of Wellsteps’ philosophy. They also have no understanding of arithmetic (costs can’t increase and decrease at the same time), drinking (it is OK to have wine with dinner or a beer at a ballgame), smoking (smokers don’t take their first steps to quitting by smoking only on weekdays), nutrition (“one more bite of a banana” will not improve your health), and arithmetic again.

You can let Wellsteps’ largest client know how you feel about this by writing to the Boise School Committee at Jeannette.clark@boiseschools.org and copying the editor of the local newspaper, Rhonda Prast, at rprast@idahostatesman.com.


Michael O’Donnell, American Journal of Health Promotion

Michael O’Donnell served, until recently, as the prevaricator-in-chief of the industry trade publication, the American Journal of Health Promotion, which might as well be called the American Journal of Self- Promotion, for the simple reason that – despite the overwhelmingly poor economics of “pry, poke and prod” programs and their strong likelihood of harming employees – they have published only one single sentence critical of wellness…and when that was discovered to have slipped through pre-publication review by their thought police, they walked it back in the next issue.

Mr. O’Donnell was voted into the Hall of Shame thanks to his proposal to charge employees for insurance based on BMIs, a “pay what you weigh” approach, like ordering lobsters or sending a package.

His proposal should be read in its entirety (or at least the hilariously annotated version). Here are a few highlights:

  • Prospective new hires should be subjected to an intrusive physical exam and hired only if they are in good shape.  OK, not every single prospective new hire — only those applying for “blue collar jobs or jobs that require excessive walking, standing, or even sitting.”   Hence, he would waive the physical exam requirement for mattress-tester, prostitute, or outcomes analyst for a wellness company – because those jobs require only excessive lying.
  • Employees above his ideal weight would pay per pound.
  • He would “set the standard for BMI at the level where medical costs are lowest.” Since people with very low BMIs incur higher costs than people with middling BMIs, Mr. O’Donnell would fine not only people who weigh more than his ideal, but also employees with anorexia.

If employees didn’t already have an eating disorder, what better way of giving them one — and hence extracting more penalties from them — than to levy fines based on their weight?

We aren’t making this up. Here is an excerpt:

He claims that all these weigh-ins and fines will create an “insanely great program” for employees, whether they like it or not.


Vitality Group, Johnson & Johnson – and Ron Goetzel

Where would a wellness-related Hall of Shame be without Ron Goetzel? Name a debacle or scandal in wellness, and his fingerprints are on it. Penn State, Nebraska, McKesson, Bravo/Graco, and of course Wellsteps come immediately to mind.

He was also the very stable genius behind the Johnson & Johnson Fat Tax. The Fat Tax  was supposed to be a game-changer, ostracizing overweight folks with the misfortune of working for publicly traded corporations. In this scheme, companies would weigh their employees and then disclose those weights to shareholders. The shareholders would presumably reward those companies doing the best job of reducing employee weight, creating more profit for the wellness vendors, like Vitality or Johnson & Johnson, who would help employees lose weight. Ultimately it would be a tax, in that every employer that did not hire a wellness company and/or fire fat employees would see its stock price tumble, making wellness a mandatory fee.

While this “fat tax” would go a long way towards achieving the Wellness Ignorati’s goal of monetizing body-shaming, bringing financial disclosure into the picture raises all sorts of regulatory issues. Could you force employees to be weighed in order to meet SEC disclosure rules? What if employees cheated on the weigh-in, as employees are wont to do? Would that create a Sarbanes-Oxley violation?

There are three ironies here. It turns out that companies that are obsessed with prying, poking and prodding their employees, like McKesson, watch their stock prices tumble. And companies specifically obsessed with goading their employees into crash-dieting contests, like Schlumberger’s chart below, have the worst stock performance of all.

Second, it turns out that Vitality can’t get its own employees to lose weight, and yet they want you to hire them to get your employees to lose weight.

Finally – and this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – there is zero correlation between employee weight and corporate performance.

Mr. Goetzel works for Johns Hopkins and often places their name on his essays. If you have an opinion on whether Johns Hopkins should be supporting institutionalized body-shaming, you can express your opinion by writing to Dean Ellen MacKenzie at emacken1@jhu.edu .


Honorable mentions

Dr. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, president of the Cleveland Clinic. After commenting that he would not hire smokers at the Clinic, he added that he would not hire obese people if he could legally deny them jobs.

So he doesn’t want to work with obese people, except if they happen to be president.

Dr. David Katz coined the term “oblivobesity” because apparently, he feels we have not yet made larger people feel bad enough about themselves to force them to do something about their weight – the difficulty of which has apparently been overstated because, according to Katz writing in the Huffington Post:

“There are rare cases of extreme weight loss resistance and such, but by and large, we can lose weight and find health by eating well and being active. Really.”

He deftly rebuts 30-plus years of consistent and conclusive research to the contrary by adding “really” to the end. Because everyone knows that makes a statement true. Really.

He also continues to illustrate his postings with pictures of headless fat people. And then there is his defense of Dr. Oz.


Please feel free to contact us about additional “shamers” you would like to add to the list along with the reasons why.

 

 

Book Review: The Healthy Workplace Nudge is a Must-Read

Rarely does a book come along where you can see the author changing his mind about the conclusion as he goes along.  The Healthy Workplace Nudge, by Rex Miller (with Philip Williams, and Dr. Michael O’Neill) is such a book. (For politicos, here is another such book.)  Don’t skim the first few chapters — enjoy watching his journey to enlightenment. Like him, I myself took the same journey. Until about 2007, I didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid. I also mixed it up and sold it…until I did a little fifth-grade math, reaching a conclusion summarized in an observer’s blog post entitled Founding Father of Disease Management Astonishingly Declares “My Kid is Ugly.”

Like virtually everybody including myself (and every member of Congress in 2010), upon first hearing the wellness industry elevator pitch, Rex starts out by assuming that wellness must save money — it seems so obvious.  But the more he learns, through his extensive research, the more he realizes that the “pry, poke and prod” industry is a fraud. “My [initial] unfamiliarity with workplace wellness was a benefit,” he observed. As a tabula rasa, the more he looked, the more he saw: “A few studies have become major pillars of misinformation that have been repeated for more than a decade.”

Welcome to my world, Rex.

After that, the more he learned, the more he learned. Trying to get to the root of the ubiquitous $3-in-savings-for-$1-in-investment meme that permeates the field and predated Katherine Baicker’s subsequently retracted 3.27-to-1 ROI, here’s what he discovered:

When I reached the global health and wellness director for the most cited case study, he admitted he did not know where the numbers came from or even who had actually created the report. So the result seemed to be a very high profile…urban legend.

Meanwhile, back in the company of my new castaway friends, the misfit provocateurs [Tom Emerick, Soeren Mattke and me], I kept hearing simple declarative sentences and sourced data. 

He is spot-on regarding the distinction. Here is how one of the Wellness Ignorati explains Koop Award-winner (and notorious opioid distributor) McKesson’s seemingly self-contradictory award-winning program results:

Health indicators in 2013 and 2014 were adjusted in the analysis, while several sensitivity analyses of the ‘inter-individual’ impact that used a matching approach confirmed the results… Lewis’s conclusion essentially compares apples and oranges by mingling overall summary statistics with an interpretive analysis section that’s descriptive. The latter is based on repeated cross-sections of McKesson employees.

By contrast, here is “Lewis’s conclusion” after observing the self-contradiction in the Koop Award application that prompted this Employee Benefit News smackdown, presented in a simple declarative sentence:

The average weight of McKesson’s employees can’t rise and fall at the same time.


As if Rex needed more data points, another red flag was being disinvited from speaking at one of the Wellness Ignorati-fests. This happens whenever a speaker subsequently admits to critical thinking after being “confirmed” to speak. Critical thinking is right up there with data, math, integrity, facts, analysis, grammar, wellness and me in the rogue’s gallery of damned spots the Wellness Ignorati attempt to wash out, out — or at a minimum pretend to ignore (hence their moniker).

That’s why allowing the noses of the Rex Millers of the world (among whose unforgivable misdeeds are quoting the Al Lewises of the world in their books) into their tents might nudge their bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, painstakingly sequestered, acolytes to use the internet, perhaps searching on keywords like “Koop Award.” If they do, they might learn that in 2016, the year after the Ignorati disinformed their flock that Koop Award-winning companies dramatically outperformed the stock market, the 2015 winner became 2016’s 14th-worst performer in the S&P 500.

Mr. Miller refers to the Ignorati as harboring “deep anger” about being exposed for “fabricating the data.”  Rex says he “doesn’t know the intent of using false data,” but I can clue him in: false data is quite useful if you are selling a scam (the LA Times‘ word, not mine).

Mr. Miller’s expert interviewing style even enticed Ron Goetzel to come tantalizingly close to admitting what we’ve spent four years in TSW demonstrating: that his whole career — claiming huge amounts of money can be saved by coercing lots of employees into claiming to eat more broccoli — is one giant fabrication. Mr. Miller quotes Mr. Goetzel as saying: “Changing behavior is very very very very hard.”

Yes, Ron, your cordially-welcomed-but-ever-so-slightly-overdue Eureka Moment is very very very very accurate. I imagine you’ll retract it soon, because on the other occasion when you were accurate — when your guidebook accidentally admitted wellness loses money — you immediately tried to disown your findings as soon as I congratulated you on their (apparently unintentional) accuracy.


The Nudge…and the Real Estate

The essence of Mr. Miller’s thesis is that hammering people with forced behavior change is very very very very pointless.

Having concluded that prying, poking and prodding employees does likely more harm than good, Rex moves on to a totally different way of doing wellness, which is to say, passively rather than actively. Clearly Rex put a lot of time and shoe leather into researching this book, and it shows. Many examples are offered of how little steps — simply moving different snacks to different places or making stairways more appealing than elevators — nudge behavior.

Way beyond that, the most notable advances in this book concern the built environment. He observes we spend 90% of our lives indoors, and yet little attention is paid to the effect of indoor space on health, wellness and productivity. I suspect more attention is paid to it than he gives credit for, but certainly we have all worked in or visited stultifying workplaces, workplaces where you can’t imagine wanting to hang out in any longer than necessary.

He proposes taking the built environment to the next level. Upgrading a typical building to the WELL Certification standard costs between $150 and $500/employee, all-in. Contrast that to the math provided to him by Tom Emerick that Walmart estimated for a wellness program: accounting for all the administrative costs, false positives, and lost productivity from health fairs and “workshops” totals thousands of dollars per employee. On the “credit” side of the ledger, every pound an employee lost cost Walmart shareholders $50,000.

By contrast, what goes into that $150 to $500 spent on the built environment get you? Suddenly every employee is “participating” in your wellness program, with no penalties or incentives needed. Not just the food in the cafeteria, but everything down to the air that circulates can be optimized for health and performance. “At their best,” he concludes, “buildings can be inspiring and invigorating–with little additional expense.”  For instance, office and factory interiors tend to be dry, which facilitates the spread of disease. They also often allow in little natural light, the lack of which can disrupt circadian rhythms. Both can be easily remedied, with humidification, and with lighting that mimics our circadian rhythms.

The beauty of his proposal on the built environment is that, unlike traditional wellness programs where even the promoters say you need to do everything right to get them to work (“Only 100 or so programs succeed, while thousands of programs fail,” according to Mr. Goetzel), you can solve this problem by throwing money at it…and not much at that. Mr. Miller does go on to point out the value of leadership, but I prefer solutions that anyone can implement, as opposed to solutions that require CEO behavior change, which is very very very very hard.

The built environment is one of several chapters he proposes on solutions, and all are worthy reading, but this section is my favorite because it was new ground at least to me, and because it is so accessible to the average company.  Even in existing space as opposed to new construction, a large chunk of what he is proposing can be accomplished for the price of a few years of a “pry, poke and prod” program. As one CEO who made this investment observes: “Hardly a week goes by when I don’t get a thank-you.”

In conclusion, go to Amazon and buy this book. Do it very very very very soon. Plus, the more copies he sells, the more Ron Goetzel will get very very very very mad.

The Secret Life of Ronald Goetzel: Wellness meets Whack-a-Mole

In the immortal words of the great philosopher Soeren Mattke of RAND:

“The industry went in with promises of 3 to 1 and 6 to 1 based on health care savings alone – then research came out that said that’s not true – then they said ok we are cost neutral – and now as research says maybe not even cost neutral they say but is really about productivity which we can’t really measure but it’s an enormous return.”

That’s two moles whacked in just one paragraph.

Then when the productivity thing didn’t pan out, they invented something called value-on-investment, which (even though they invented it specifically to show savings) turned out to show massive losses on even the most cursory examination.  Third mole.

Bottom line: all their studies that do actually exist self-invalidate no matter what they claim because — get ready — wellness loses money. Now it looks like there is a fourth mole to whack — Mr. Goetzel’s latest charade is, yeah, maybe virtually all studies in existence reveal losses upon examination, but that studies that don’t actually exist show massive savings.  Perhaps he was inspired by Wellnet, which shows massive savings in “undetected claims cost,” which also don’t exist. Google on “undetected claims costs.” The only hits you get are Wellnet and me making fun of Wellnet.


I was recently forwarded an email containing Ron’s latest musings. I’ve never met the originator of the email, so he could have fabricated the entire thing for all I know. But in terms of credibility, if Ron Goetzel tells me the sky is blue and someone I’ve never met tells me the sky is green, I’d at least go look out the window.

Ron “the Pretzel” Goetzel’s latest twist — since he can’t find fault with my work — is that all the studies I invalidate are published studies, which he acknowledges in this email to be of generally poor quality. He now claims there is a parallel universe of unpublished studies showing savings that are of high quality.  For some reason, this special reserve collection of buried treasure is stashed in a secret hideaway drawer under lock and key in a safe room. (He says his clients don’t want competitors finding out how well they are doing, but could it be they simply prefer not to be publicly humiliated, like most of his other clients?)

The claim that unpublished studies show the greatest savings is ironic. Why? Because Ron previously stated: “Many unsuccessful programs are not reported.


Where Ron and I would agree is that the published studies I have invalidated — like this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one — are definitely of low quality.  Maybe that’s because Ron himself:

  1. wrote them;
  2. gave them an award; or
  3. both, since conflict of interest is his modus operandi, or
  4. in the case of Penn State, goaded them into creating a wellness program that became a national punchline.

He did name the three companies that:

  • produce these alleged secret studies, and
  • “pay Truven $250,000 to analyze their numbers.”

The latter would be quite impressive if they do — except that they don’t. I’m not naming them to protect their privacy, but suffice it to say I sent them both the snippet of that email with their names in it, and they got a kick out of it. (“I never, ever, thought this nonsense worked.”) I added that if Ron Goetzel went around bragging that I paid him $250,000 to analyze my numbers, I’d sue for defamation.

On the flip side, he is also telling people (privately, so that I don’t find out about it like this) that I am [blushing] “the least credible person in the industry,” perhaps having forgotten that he had already accidentally admitted that I am the most credible person in the industry. I’m in good company — he also disses the second-most-credible evaluator in the field, for the simple transgression of publishing a high-quality study that showed losses that Ron inadvertently validated, before trying to pretzel his way back from with a series of lies that would make a White House press secretary blush.

He would also have to explain why, if I am so non-credible, he begged to be on the advisory board of the Validation Institute (which I started with Intel-GE Care Innovations). We couldn’t have him on the board because the whole point of the Validation Institute was to be credible, which it is. It is now the official validator for the World Health Care Congress.

He even got David Nash to try to strongarm us. We could have just said no, but what fun would that have been? We said: “Sure, you just have to be certified in Advanced Critical Outcomes Report Analysis first.” The test at the time consisted of finding all the errors in his Nebraska analysis, so he couldn’t earn the CORA certification without admitting that all the claims in the study were fabricated, impossible, or represented industry-leading ignorance of the way prevention works. For example, the very stable Nebraska geniuses “waive[d] all age-related screening guidelines” so that young people could get screens intended only for older people, which would be like “waiving” the minimum age for getting a driver’s license to get more young drivers on the road.

How many errors were there? Eventually, with the help of people getting validated (we had missed a few errors ourselves because there were so many of them), we dedicated an entire chapter of Surviving Workplace Wellness to Nebraska, a chapter which opens as follows:


The 2017 Deplorables Awards — Runners Up

It’s time for the 2017 Deplorables Awards, lovingly bestowed on those vendors who do the best job making other vendors look good. 


The good news is that you don’t have to actually win the Deplorables Award to sue me.  Runners-up are eligible too. Here is my address for hand-service delivery most of the year:

890 Winter Street #208, Waltham MA 02451

In case you decide to sue me between June 22 and August 8, use:

8 Paddock Circle, Chilmark, MA 02535

And don’t leave out my attorney:

Josh Gardner, GARDNER & ROSENBERG P.C.33 Mount Vernon Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02108

I don’t know how much more I can do for you, other than lick the envelope. So go for it. Don’t make me beg.

But, remember, unlike your usual business model, in court you are required to actually tell the truth (I would be happy to explain to you how that works), meaning there is no chance of your winning — or likely even avoiding summary judgment, since none of the evidence is in dispute. It’s all your own writings.  Oh, and I do my own cross, which means you won’t be able to find an expert witness. Anyone who knows enough about wellness to be an expert witness also knows enough about wellness to know that attempting to defend you would be a humiliating, on-the-record experience.

And there is always the chance that some annoying jerk might blog about it…


The 2017 Runners-Up

Imagine a four-square matrix with competence on one axis and integrity on the other. The people and organizations we’ll be highlighting today would intersect with the companies mentioned in Monday’s posting at only one single point.

Springbuk and Fitbit

As many of you recall, earlier in the year we analyzed the study done by Springbuk that secretly financed by Fitbit. Or maybe I need new glasses, because I just couldn’t find the disclosure in the Springbuk report that this paean to Fitbit was financed by Fitbit, the way Nero used to have the judges award him Olympic medals.

Coincidentally, the study showed Fitbit saving gobs of money because employees taking more than 100 steps a day spend less money than those taking fewer. However, a simple tally of one’s own footsteps shows that it is impossible not to take 100 steps a day unless you are both:

  1. in a hospital bed; and also
  2. on dialysis.

This 100 steps-a-day threshold was repeated many times in the study, with no explanation of how that number came to be. However, it turns out we owe these two outfits an apology. Fitbit and Springbuk have told a number of people privately (not publicly, in order to avoid an embarrassing news cycle) that they didn’t really mean to say that 100 steps a day constituted activity.  They meant to say that taking 100 steps a day implied you had your Fitbit on. My apologies for failing to read their minds that their conclusions were based on reading people’s minds to determine whether they wore the Fitbit deliberately, or simply forgot/remembered/cared to put their Fitbit on.

They never did explain — privately or publicly or to anyone — how employees who took an average number steps during the baseline year could show huge savings by taking an average number of steps in the study year too.

They also never explained how these two statements didn’t completely contradict each other, even though I specifically asked them to in a personal letter, excerpted here:

Third, can you reconcile this statement…:

“The materials in this document represent the opinion of the authors and not representative of the views of Springbuk, Inc. Springbuk does not certify the information, nor does it guarantee the accuracy and completeness of such information.”

…with this statement:

“This demonstration of impact achieved by integrating Fitbit technology into an employee wellness program reinforces our belief in the power of health data and measurement in demonstrating ROI,” said Rod Reasen, co-founder and CEO of Springbuk. 


National Business Group on Health

Next up is the National Business Group on Health. Last year they made the list for criticizing the US Preventive Services Task Force for not demanding enough screenings, in a country that is drowning in them. Not content to rest on those laurels, this year they earned an Honorable Mention for inviting Dr. Oz to keynote on the role of quackery in corporate wellness, and perhaps tell us about his latest lose-weight-by-eating-chocolate miracle diet.


Health Enhancement Research Organization

HERO of course also earns a runner-up award. 2017 will be remembered as the year they finally came to grips with the realization that a business model based on fabricating outcomes requires that perpetrators possess that critical third IQ digit. Without that extra “1”, an organization trafficking in math that can at best be considered fuzzy is going to be outed.

This year’s set of lies?  By way of background, their 2016 poison-pen letter insisted they had fabricated that data set showing that wellness loses money without disclosing that it was fabricated — and also never reviewed their fabricated data before publication. Early in the year, I had the insight that, wow, this “fabricated” Chapter in their guidebook is so much better than the other chapters that something is amiss. No one at HERO can analyze data competently…and yet, here it was, a competent data analysis.

I did something I had never thought to do before, which was look up the actual author of that chapter. It was Iver Juster MD. He was a great analyst even before he read all my books, took all my courses, and achieved all my certifications in Critical Outcomes Report Analysis.

So I called Iver. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Whereas Paul Terry and Ron Goetzel had insisted that Iver fabricated the data, Iver said, of course he didn’t — whatever made me think that?  (“If it wasn’t real, I would have disclosed that,” he observed. Of course he would have. Iver has tremendous integrity.)
  2. The Board discussed and reviewed his chapter at length, and made helpful suggestions, for which he was quite grateful.  This review process required “countless hours,” just as the HERO document says:

The number of  transparent lies HERO tells could make a president blush. In the immortal words of the great philosopher LL Cool J, they lied about the lies they lied about.

Even though 2017 was an off-year for them in terms of the number of lies, they still told enough to be named a runner-up.


Wellness Corporate Solutions

Next is Wellness Corporate Solutions, famous for its crash-dieting contests. WCS now offers a water-drinking contest. The idea is to set up a “challenge” for your team to drink more water than other teams. They call this a “healthy competition.”  I guess they didn’t get the memo that forcing yourself to drink when you don’t want to drink, just to make more money, is anything but healthy. Here is a novel idea: drink when you are thirsty.  Evolution 1, WCS 0.

Perhaps as an encore, WCS, Dr. Oz and the National Business Group on Health could team up to offer a chocolate-eating contest.

I looked into this outfit to see where they get their ideas. The CEO previously ran something called the Washington Document Service. That qualifies her to run a wellness company. As Star Wellness says, to run a wellness company successfully, your background needs to be in sales, or “municipality administration.”  After all, what is more central to administering a municipality than documents?


Wellsteps

What fun would a list of runners-up be without Wellsteps, the  proud recipient of the 2016 Deplorables Award? While their streams of consciousness weren’t as memorable in 2017 as in 2016 (“It’s fun to get fat. It’s fun to be lazy“), they get credit for trying. Their 2017 weight-loss campaign was headlined: “This campaign is not really about weight loss, it is about helping you apply the behavioral secrets of those who have lost weight.”

So if your kids ever want you to teach them how to ride a bike, say: “It’s not really about riding a bike. It’s about helping you apply the secrets of people who have ridden bikes.”

And what secrets are we talking about? What person who has lost weight doesn’t brag to everyone or even write a book?  If there is a secret to weight loss, like eating chocolate, Wellsteps owes it to the country to tell them. Don’t make us beg.


Odds and Ends

No Koop Award winner this year, but an honorable mention to past winners and runners up for their commitment to wellness:

Sounds like in 2018 the logical winners would be Philip Morris, or maybe The Asbestos Corporation of America.

Veering briefly into the public sector, kudos to Representative Virginia Foxx, (R-NC5) for introducing the Required Employee DNA Disclosure Act. Even HERO thought it was a dumb idea…and their threshold for thinking something that increases wellness industry revenues is a dumb idea is quite high, having all rallied behind the Johnson & Johnson Fat Tax, in which companies would be required to disclose the weight of their employees.



Next up…the winner of the 2017 Deplorables Award

The reward for showing your wellness program works is now $3 million!

As almost everyone in the wellness industry knows, we have offered a $2 million reward to anyone who can show that conventional annual “pry, poke and prod” wellness saves money. I’m feeling very generous today, what with the holidays upon us, so let’s make the reward $3 million.

Even more importantly, let’s loosen the rules — a lot —  to encourage applicants. You’ll find the $3 million reward is not just more generous, but also far easier to claim than the previous $2 million reward.


Loosening the Rules

Except as indicated below, the rules stay the same as in the previous posting, but with the following relaxed standards. Most importantly, I’ll now accept the burden of persuasion. It is my job to convince the panel of judges, using the standard civil level of proof, that you are wrong, as opposed to you having to convince them that I am wrong.

Next, let’s expand the pool from which the judges can be drawn. It wasn’t very nice of me to allow you to choose from only the 300 people on Peter Grant’s exclusive healthcare policy listserve, since obviously no one invited into a legitimate healthcare policy listserve thinks wellness saves money.

In addition, you can also choose among the 150+ people on Dave Chase’s email list and the 70 people on the Ethical Wellness email list. (www.ethicalwellness.org)  And to make it totally objective, we will add as judges whatever two bloggers happen to be the leading dedicated lay US healthcare economic policy bloggers at the time of the application for the award, as measured by the ratio of Twitter followers-to-Twitter-following, with a minimum of 15,000 followers.

So judges are chosen as follows: two bloggers chosen by objective formula, plus we each choose six people from among the other 520, with the other party having veto rights for 5 of them. That gives a total of 4 judges, who will choose a fifth from among those roughly 500 people.

This means I only name one of the five judges, so I can’t “stack the deck,” not that I would need to.

The original rules included the requirement of defending Wellsteps’ Koop Award.  After all, the best vendor should be exemplary, right? A beacon for others to follow? A benchmark to show what’s possible when the best and brightest make employees happy and healthy?

However, now you have another option. You could instead just publicly acknowledge that the Koop Award committee is corrupt/incompetent, since that possibility cannot be ruled out as a logical explanation for Wellsteps winning that award. Your choice, but, one way or the other, the Wellsteps award must be addressed in your entry.

Next, you may bring as many experts with you to address the adjudication forum (a Washington, DC venue to be chosen later) as you wish to bring.  I, on the other hand, will be limited to myself.

Further, you no longer have to defend the proposition that wellness as a whole has saved money. You can, if you prefer, simply acknowledge that most of it has failed…except you. Meaning that, if you are a vendor that has been “profiled” on this site in the last 2 years, you can limit your defense to your own specific results. You don’t have to defend the swamp.

That new loophole allows companies like Interactive Health, Fitbit, Wellness Corporate Solutions, etc. — and especially Wellsteps — to get rich…if what I have said specifically about them is wrong. I have $3 million that says it isn’t.


Special Offer for HERO

Ah, yes, the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO). The belly of the beast.

Let me make them a special offer. Paul Terry, the current HERO Prevaricator-in-Chief, has accused me of the following  (if you link, you’ll see they had enough sense not to use my name, likely on advice of counsel, given that I already almost sued them after they circulated their poison pen letter to the media):

I’m convinced responding to bloggers who show disdain for our field is an utter waste of time. I’ve rarely been persuaded to respond to bloggers [Editors note, in HERO-speak, “rarely” means “never” — except for that intercepted Zimmerman Telegram-like missive], and each time I did it affirmed my worry that, more than a waste, it’s counter-productive. That’s because they’ll not only incessantly recycle their original misstatements, but worse, they’ll misrepresent your response and use it as fodder for more disinformation.*

Tell ya what, Paul. let’s debate disinformation, including your letter.

I have asked you on multiple occasions to clue me in as to what my alleged disinformation actually is, if any. That way I can publicly apologize and fix it, should I choose to do so.  Before applying for this award, you need to disclose this alleged disinformation. You can’t just go around saying my information is made up etc. without specifying what it is.

By definition, “disinformation” is deliberate misrepresentation. To my knowledge, as a member of the “integrity segment” of the wellness industry, I have never, and would never, spread disinformation.

On the other hand, if I did spread inadvertently incorrect information by mistake, it seems only fair to let me fix it — especially given that I have been totally transparent and generous with my time in explaining to you what yours is, and how to correct it. (I might have missed some. Keeping up with yours is a challenge of Whack a Mole-meets-White House press correspondent proportions.)

So perhaps it is time to man up, Mr. Terry.  You and your cronies claim to have been collecting my “disinformation” for years, without disclosing any of it. I’m offering you a public forum and $3-million to present it…with only one of 5 judges on “my” side.

Otherwise, perhaps you should, in the immortal word(s) of the great philosopher Moe Howard, shaddap.


*As a side note, Mr. Terry writes: “We’re fortunate to work in an industry with a scant number of vociferous critics.” This “scant” number appears to include the entire medialeft-wing, right-wing, centrist, and health policyApparently also most employees, according to Towers Watson. The good news about “pry, poke and prod” is that it truly bridges the partisan divide, in that everyone hates it.



Update February 20, 2018:

One of the very stable geniuses in the wellness industry has decided that the reason no one applies for this award isn’t that they know they’ll lose.  It’s because a reward isn’t a valid offer. We would invite them to read this link.


Update March 19, 2018:

The new entry process is:

  1. Applicant puts $3000 into escrow (bank escrow fees to be 50-50 shared once escrow is completed), at which point an NDA is signed and I show tangible net worth (excluding primary and secondary residences — and any retirement accounts are accounted for net of tax penalty for early withdrawal) more than sufficient to pay the reward. Applicant may either go forward at this point, or forfeit the $3000 to me.
  2. Applicant adds $27,000, at which point a lien is placed on earning assets exceeding $3,000,000 as valued at at lower of cost or mark-to-market  (and/or they are placed in escrow, and/or title is changed to the escrow agent, though I still receive the income until the reward is paid). If I fail to provide that lien within 60 days, I pay a “liquidated damages” penalty of $100,000. The applicant is released from the NDA and may announce that I failed to deliver and they won by default. Assuming the $3,000,000 is sufficiently secured and the “liquidated damages” provision is not triggered, applicant may either go forward, or forfeit the $30,000 to me.
  3. Applicant adds $270,000 to the escrow, at which point the entry process is completed, and the debate is held. Judges and expenses are paid out of the escrow.
  4. If I win the debate, the remaining escrow funds are released to me.
  5. If I lose the debate, the remaining escrow funds are released to the applicant. I must either pay the $3,000,000 on the spot or (because some earning assets are illiquid) pay interest starting at 6% on the unpaid portion in the first year, going up to 7% in year 2 on any unpaid balances, 8% in year 3, and 10% in subsequent years until the full $3 million is paid off.

What if they gave a Koop Award and nobody came?

You have to read this all the way through because, in breaking with long-established precedent (which needless to say is recounted in loving detail), in 2017 the Koop Award Committee — wait for it — did the right thing. 


In 2017, 3 companies applied for a Koop Award. This is down from a peak of 21, and represents the belated recognition on the part of wellness vendors that it simply isn’t mathematically possible to satisfy the requirement of saving money. Thankfully, one of the best attributes of math is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.

Many an employer has won an award, only to learn later — via the media — that their vendor had fabricated the savings. This litany might explain the slight reticence of vendors to shine a light on their own programs:

  1. Wellsteps: “Top Wellness Award Goes to Workplace Where Many Health Measures Got Worse,” STATNews
  2. McKesson: “Wellness ROI Comes under Fire,” Employee Benefit News
  3. Health Fitness Corporation:”Nebraska’s Acclaimed Wellness Program Under Fire,” Omaha World-Herald

An example of what transpires when employers find out they’ve been snookered would be McKesson. If the name “McKesson” sounds familiar, it’s probably because you saw 60 Minutes the other night explaining how drug distributors including McKesson facilitated the opioid crisis.

The good news is, illegally trafficking in opioids doesn’t disqualify a company from winning a wellness award. Is this a great country or what?

Once McKesson got wind that Employee Benefit News was going to publish an expose on how they got snookered, they called in a consultant, not to investigate how they got snookered but rather to mount a coverup. The consultant “clarified” to Employee Benefit News  — in lay terms that any fifth-grader could understand — how, among other things, employees’ weight could go down and up at the same time:

“Health indicators in 2013 and 2014 were adjusted in the analysis, while several sensitivity analyses of the ‘inter-individual’ impact that used a matching approach confirmed the results.”

Silly me! Of course weight can go up and down at the same time!

McKesson was not exactly copacetic about this coverage. Here is the reaction of McKesson’s wellness program champion to my analysis, as reported to me:

“I wish you could have been in the room when I questioned the architect of that whole program. I’ve never unintentionally pissed anyone off that much. Red faced and table pounding, it was a moment! He retired 3 days later. Coincidence?”


Next, consider last year’s award, bestowed upon their Wellsteps buddies.  Wellsteps (motto: “It’s fun to get fat; it’s fun to be lazy”) is the kind of company that gives cronyism a bad name…but they were overdue for the award, never having won one despite their years of service on the Awards Committee.

Sure, Wellsteps harmed employees, but harming employees has never been a deal-killer for a wellness award. Ron Goetzel observed that employees en masse becoming sicker — both objectively and according to their own self-assessment — only meant that the program did not “[go] exactly right.”  By that logic, the Vietnam War did not go exactly right either.

 


The 2017 Awards

No one won in 2017. The Committee deserves great credit for getting it right this year, finally albeit belatedly acknowledging that it is indeed impossible to get a positive ROI by screening the stuffing out of your employees.  So kudos to them!

Instead, they gave “honorable mentions” to the three applicants: Delta Airlines, IDEXX Labs, and Pepsico.  I’m sure all three deserved their —

Whoa! In the immortal words of the great philosopher Meat Loaf, stop right there! Come again? Pepsico?  That Pepsico?

If one excludes the total debacles at Penn State, Nebraska and Boise — Pepsico runs the single most-pilloried wellness program in history. It was the subject of a Health Affairs article showing massive losses on its wellness program. These losses, massive as they appeared, were likely understated. I was the peer reviewer, and I passed it rather than make the author do more work, because I thought it was more important to get the word out there promptly than to make him recount every single stupid thing they did.


Pepsi’s Latest Innovation

In all fairness to Pepsico, maybe they do deserve at least a “most improved” award, because now you can buy Pepsi made with real sugar. This is a good thing, according to their announcement, even if the people who run their wellness program disagree. One can only imagine what a beleaguered Pepsico employee’s Outlook calendar looks like:

Perhaps McKesson’s consultant could explain this to us.


Delta and IDEXX

I can’t really comment on the other two because none of the four flight attendants I talked to at Delta had any familiarity with their program beyond the basics (“Yeah, I think if you fill out a form and go to the doctor, you get a discount on insurance or something like that”), while IDEXX doesn’t use vendors connected with the Awards Committee and doesn’t make up savings. To bestow an outright win in that situation would go against all precedent, so IDEXX should be happy with their honorable mention.

Theirs is a fitness-based program that deserves a closer look, as a model for what a wellness program should look like.  I hope to do that someday.

And perhaps IDEXX is a harbinger of things to come, where wellness is done for employees and not to them, wellness vendors don’t lie about savings, and they endorse and agree to adhere to the Employee Health and Wellness Code of Conduct.

Otherwise, for the wellness industry, there might be trouble on the horizon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following is an unpaid apolitical announcement

We live in an era which can’t exactly be characterized as bipartisan, but every review shows — and as you can confirm by playing the game yourself — all members of every party agree on one thing: Quizzify.

Why? Because employee health literacy is a huge issue. You can’t achieve a culture of health without achieving a culture of health literacy.  And quite literally the only company that addresses it — in an engaging Jeopardy-meets-health education-meets-Comedy Central format, no less — is Quizzify. Literally, the only company of any note. Try googling on “employee health literacy” if you want to see for yourself.

Put another way, why wouldn’t you want to improve health literacy? Is there an argument for keeping employees in the dark, when for about $1 PEPM you could enlighten them? Wiser employees make healthier decisions…and it’s your money they’re making those decisions with.

Or, viewed yet another way, a three-part question:

  1. What is the only expense your employees are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of your money on?
  2. What is the only expense employees can spend your money on without training in how to spend it?
  3. How do your answers to those two questions make any sense in combination, or even individually?

The specific occasion for this posting is a terrific article in Workforce about Quizzify, featuring one of Quizzify’s many valued customers (and such a power-user that Quizzify routinely incorporates her edits into the main question database), Debbie Youngblood of the Hilliard City Board of Education.  While we encourage reading the article in its entirety, here are a couple of tidbits, starting with a quote from Debbie:

“I’ve always felt that there was a need to have more [information] available to people as they go through their stages of life,” she said. “It always surprises me that we expect people to know how to achieve overall well-being. We’ve given them very little opportunity to know, understand and practice the things that might be beneficial…”

She also believes it’s valuable to educate adults on health-related topics because it drives conversation. She sees employees discussing topics and questioning the information gained through their health literacy program.

To summarize…

Employees are talking about Quizzify.  About what they learned, what surprised them, and what they would do differently now. By contrast, employee comments about conventional wellness can’t be repeated in a family publication like TSW. Here are some of the more printable ones.  Oh, yeah, and don’t forget these.  (To be fair, occasionally an employee does benefit.)

Another tidbit in the article describes (in as many words) how Quizzify and Hilliard have morphed “cheating” into “learning.” Employees are encouraged to look up the answers in order to improve their scores. That’s how they learn — which of course is exactly what Ms. Youngblood and Quizzify want them to do. So employees brag about what they’ve learned, whereas in other wellness programs they brag about how they cheat.

Consequently, companies that think they’re creating a culture of health are instead creating a culture of deceit. Call us wacky idealists, but for $1 PEPY (in lieu of the likely much higher fee you are paying now), you could replace that culture of deceit with a culture of health literacy. Why wouldn’t you?


Disclosure
TSW principals, while not salaried by Quizzify, have an ownership interest in it. However, this site is not affiliated with Quizzify and opinions expressed in this blog are our own. Except this one, which seems to be shared by everyone.

Wellness program quote of the day

An uberfit Ultimate Frisbee teammate of mine reported that his company’s wellness vendor asked if his doctor had measured his waist size.

“No,” my friend replied. “He’s not a tailor.”

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