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2020 World Health Care Congress to Feature Wellness Debate!

It looks like the Mother of All Wellness Debates will be held March 29th in Washington, DC, at the World Health Care Congress.

This is a particularly timely issue because the EEOC is, even as we speak, drafting proposed rules defining “voluntary” to replace the 1984-type rules (where “voluntary” means “forced”) tossed out by a federal court in December 2018. There is a tension between protecting employee civil rights (as EEOC is tasked with doing) and allowing employers to fine employees (or move to high-deductible plans and then “incentivize” them to earn back their deductible) who don’t lose weight or otherwise toe the line. Or even to participate in these so-called “pry, poke and prod” programs, whose clinical value is dubious and often provide misinformation or violate clinical guidelines.

As noted in the link, key EEOC administrators have indicated they will be paying close attention to this debate. Further, the interest level extends to Capitol Hill.  Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin (arguably the most influential non-senior Democrat on the Hill) and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander (who runs the Senate committee that oversees health and labor issues), have already commented for the record on this debate.

Someone needs to show up to represent the “pro” side, though — or else the debate will be a rather one-sided affair. So far the invitation to debate has not been accepted — by the exact people who spend their entire lives looking for forums to spread their pro-pry,poke,and prod message.

Let me encourage them to show up by striking a conciliatory tone.

In the past, perhaps this column has not been respectful of my potential adversaries in this debate — the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) and/or Ron Goetzel.  However, I have great regard for them  — when they tell the truth. For instance, Ron Goetzel endorsed Quizzify as being “a lot of fun and very clever,” (minute 42:57 of our last debate).  And when he acknowledged I am the best peer-reviewer in the industry (minute 30:38). Or when he acknowledged that it requires 2-3 years to reduce risk by 1-2%.

I am also very very upset with The Incidental Economist (they are the New York Times’ economics bloggers). They referred to Ron’s analysis as — please excuse the technical jargon — “crap.” How dare they!

I also give HERO tremendous credit for admitting that “pry, poke and prod” programs harm employee morale and can damage corporate reputations (like Penn State).  But most importantly, for admitting that wellness loses money. It’s a rare trade association honest enough to admit their product –and once again, pardon the technical jargon used in the lobbying industry — sucks. It took real candor and courage to do that, and it is much appreciated. I have great respect for integrity.

I will reciprocate by acknowledging the benefits of “pry, poke and prod.” Screening according to established clinical guidelines, though it won’t save money, is a good idea for long-term employee health — assuming someone is able to interpret the findings correctly and assuming the findings are accurate, and assuming they aren’t already getting too many checkups.

I look forward to matching wits with them next month.

You can see the full World Health Care Congress agenda here, and register here.

Guest Post: Janet Bates Sums Up the Wellness Industry

Occasionally in a linkedin group, someone posts a comment that seems to merit more exposure, a “new voice” in the debate.  Janet Bates posted such a comment.  I asked her to expand and re-post it here, so that others could see it.

Follow the Money to Find the Truth

As long as there is money to be made, smoke and mirrors will abound. This is overwhelmingly evident in the current hysteria around corporate wellness. Insurance companies have their business customers whipped into a frenzy of “get those employees well (whatever that means) or else we’ll have no choice but to raise your premiums yet again.”

So in swoop the wellness “experts” to save the day with their “magic wellness dust”. The wellness people boldly claim that all it will take are education, incentives and contests for employees to improve their “numbers” (which somehow prove good health) or face penalties (or lose their incentives—same thing) if they don’t. Running these programs will keep insurance premiums in line, increase productivity, improve engagement, reduce absenteeism, make everyone love their jobs and probably save the world from insurgents all while delivering a jaw-dropping ROI.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing, except that it doesn’t work and it isn’t true. So what gives? Why do so many companies choose to believe this stuff?

They Can’t Handle the Truth

It’s pretty simple…few companies want to truly look at their own role in what may be impacting employee health. Hardly a company wants to honestly face the fact that the REAL causes of employee un-wellness include tangible items like:

  • Low wages
  • Limited or no paid sick time, family leave or vacation
  • Too many part-time jobs with non-guaranteed schedules and no health benefits
  • Hiring temps and contractors to avoid any type of commitment
  • Moving jobs off-shore

And then there are the intangibles, like:

  • Lack of flexibility and autonomy
  • Inept and bullying management
  • Required 24/7/365 connectivity and excessive hours for salaried employees with minimal, if any, salary increases
  • High deductible medical plans that employees can’t afford to use
  • A strong feeling of job insecurity leading to chronic stress
  • And other shoddy business practices and HR policies

So why don’t wellness vendors who claim to be experts help their customers face these real facts. Two reasons:

  1. There’s no fast money in it for the vendor. Helping customers address these facts won’t lead to the immediate sale of the vendor’s very profitable health risk assessments, screens, coaching, or contests.
  2. Employers don’t want to hear it. It’s much easier and cheaper to spend a few hundred bucks per employee for the “magic wellness dust” than it is to dig into the muck of the company and spend the money to fix what’s really wrong.

Following the money and facing the facts does lead to the truth. It might not be easy to hear and doing what’s right FOR employees won’t be free, but it will improve their well-being and ultimately that’s good for everyone. Unfortunately, the insurance companies will find other reasons to raise premiums. That, of course, is the real money trail to follow.

About the author:

Janet Bates is a semi-retired writer who spent close to 40 years in the “performance improvement” business.

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