It’s time to end workplace wellness programs


There will are lots of things I hope improve in our health care 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 missed the most important point,: 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. health care 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-health care sector of corporate America will finally start to push back against the excesses of the American health care industry. That would be an action that really matters.

 Richard Young is a family physician who blogs at American Health Scare


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