At Work

The biggest scam on employers and employees – wellness

As you may recall, I am no fan of corporate wellness programs. They cost more than they save (which isn’t hard to do), they place unfair burdens on employees, they disguise cost-shifting and they cannot demonstrate quantifiable savings. 

When I was a VP of Employee Benefits I wanted to stop spending $2 million a year on wellness, especially after the first meeting with our vendor where it pretended to demonstrate past savings, but didn’t even have the basic data correct. 

I couldn’t stop this spending because it was the in thing to do, it was PC. After all, who could be against wellness? As a result, my employer and many others continue this farce spending millions of dollars with no return and likely higher costs. 

However, nothing I’ve said compares to this post on the Healthcare  Blog. Take a look

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7 replies »

  1. Dick, who at your firm agreed to spend millions each year based on a promise that it would reduce medical claims? Fact is, such a proof has NEVER been made. Show me even one actuary who has confirmed causality that their wellness program reduced medical claims in excess of the cost of the program. It does not exist.

    However, that is not to say all wellness is worthless. The question becomes one of prioritization – do you improve population health more by spending your next dollar on wellness initiatives, or in lowering the deductible by a penny or something else?

    If you decide on wellness, there is plenty out there to foster, without getting to the exotic … Beyond physician or USPSTF recommendations.

    You need not justify wellness with “savings” if all you are doing is prioritizing medical spend.

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    • It starts small and just keeps growing and unlike in other areas nobody challenges the ROI. Everyone is afraid to be perceived against wellness especially after selling the idea to employees and unions and creating mythical premium credits.

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      • Well, we faced such stupidity as well. We went a step further by purchasing a wellness organization … So there were weenies running around the corporate offices making a sale on implementing wellness investments to justify capital investments as well.

        My exit was simple… I never presented proposals that were based on an ROI calculation, All around me I had weenies pumping sr leadership with projections of savings 3:1. I simply agreed with the wellness weenies, and got them to commit to achieving savings … While I presented a proposal that confirmed employer medical savings would be a three year defined dollar rate freeze. So, there was some advance and positioning, with agreement to recoup those monies in the two subsequent years.

        This was a defined dollar approach. I said we would rearrange our spend to segment out enough for the wellness program, so that the employer contributions plus premium credits to employees were set equal to the employer contribution prior to the wellness program expansion (adjusting point of purchase cost sharing). We decided that we would fix employer spend at those defined dollar levels – accepting three years of no increased spend as our medical plan “savings”. Associates who participated, achieved the 3:1 savings, as improved standard of living – measured as a risk reduction, health improvement.

        Bottom line, no increased savings, but very positive clinical health improvements (risk reductions) and favorable impact on sick leave/disability experience.

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  2. Anything to make a buck, the medical industrial complex strikes again. I am 60 and have been to the doctor 2 times in the last 20 years. I was taught that you use your health insurance when you are sick. Eat a balanced diet, exercise and get 8 hours of sleep. How come almost every day we see a new report that tells us, they were wrong about something when it comes to health guidelines. Doctors have a license to practice medicine and they are practicing on us. lol.

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    • Making a buck is true, but it’s not doctors, it’s consultants and companies that have popped up just for wellness. Employers pretend to give a premium credit to employees if they fill out a health questionnaire, or submit to a screening or say they don’t smoke. In fact that credit has been built into the total premium, thus it costs the employer nothing and in reality the employee gained nothing but are penalized for not participating in the “wellness” program.

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      • How can you say the employee “got nothing”? If the program motivated them to eat smarter, exercise and lead a healthier lifestyle, they gained quite a bit. I don’t see anything wrong with promoting healthy lifestyle changes.

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      • Nothing wrong at all. However, there is no way of knowing who was motivated to do anything or for how long. Employers want to save money on health care costs; wellness programs don’t do that its that simple. Promoting wellness can easily be done without penalizing individuals via their benefits.

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