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Worthless Wellness Programs

December 30, 2014

First of all, I hope everyone had a happy holiday season and I wish everyone a happy New Year’s. As my longtime readers know, there will are lots of things I hope improve in our healthcare system in 2015, but I’ll just mention one wish today.

My wish is that the worthless wellness programs that have sprung up all over corporate America will fade away. I have criticized these programs in the past, but more ammo has come to light.

A recent article in Employee Benefit News lists seven factors explaining how Wellness programs are not working. This article however this article missed most important point, which is that prevention does not save money, except in rare cases. Therefore, all of the biometric screenings, cholesterol tests, etc. just raise the cost of health insurance for employees.

Another article that recently appeared on the Health Affairs blog also reviewed the lack of literature on the effectiveness of workplace wellness programs. A subsequent HA blog post also called out a leading health economist, Kathrine Baicker, who wrote an analysis in Health Affairs about four years ago extolling the virtues of workplace wellness programs. According to the latest blog post even she has backed off from her article’s conclusions.

The horrible result of the Baicker article was that it was used in the Obamacare fine print to justify the growth of workplace wellness programs, including penalizing employees who did not participate. This is a travesty of the highest order, as these employers continue to support overtesting, overtreatment, inappropriate utilization scarce resources, and a continued lack of support for primary care, as they continue to do nothing to disrupt the status quo of the U.S. healthcare system.

Unfortunately, I don’t hold out a lot of hope that the wellness programs will quickly die their necessary death. I have figured out that their primary benefit is to provide emotional cover for employee benefit managers. The CEOs and CFOs complain about the cost of health insurance inflation. They expect the benefits managers to do something. And so the benefits people hire consultants to recommend wellness programs. At least they can say to their bosses that they took action.

Let’s all hope that in 2015 the non-healthcare sector of corporate America will finally start to push back against the excesses of the American healthcare industry. That would be an action that really matters.


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5 Responses to Worthless Wellness Programs

  1. Al Lewis on December 31, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    I co-wrote this Health Affairs post. It’s even worse than you think. Visit http://www.theysaidwhat.net to see the brazen lies vendors tell and the naivete of government policymakers (and I don’t have an ax to grind — I’m a Democrat)

    We were required to be polite in our posting, and were not allowed to simply say who is lying and what lies they are telling. Hence the site

    • Richard Young MD on January 1, 2015 at 1:00 am

      Mr. Lewis,

      Thanks so much for your great source article and for responding. I loved the questions you asked the legion of wellness peddlers at http://www.theysaidwhat.net. Keep up the great work!

  2. Anne Kim on January 15, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    What a sad situation when the intent of wellness programs is contradicted by programs, execution, lack of responsibility, and “greed.” When I speak of “intention” I mean that we all need to take steps to keep ourselves healthy because our society’s attitudes don’t encourage health. Thank you for your illuminating words.

  3. Aimee on October 27, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    How interesting..
    “The horrible result of the Baicker article was that it was used in the Obamacare fine print to justify the growth of workplace wellness programs, including penalizing employees who did not participate.”
    My company is forcing biometric screening or we have to pay $1500 each. They entered my HDL cholesterol as 5 instead of 57 in error and still have yet to fix that! They are so worthless and thanks to the worthless federal government for pushing this crap through. How much more does stress from having to pay out of pocket for health care impact your health?

    • Richard Young MD on November 1, 2015 at 9:03 pm

      Quite a bit, I imagine. How stressful is it to you?

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