September 23, 2013

MY MENTION OF “WELLNESS PROGRAMS” YESTERDAY produced this email:

At University of Virginia, where I am visiting this term, it’s apparently not just answer-or-pay. It’s sign up your body for Big Insurance’s invasive eyes or pay. Faculty who don’t show up for workplace screening are penalized according to the Aetna health plan “incentives”.

Fundamentally these programs are not about individuals at all. They are about forcing people into being part of massive samples for junk “research” that will hound everyone for years to come. As you know, if you push sample sizes big enough, standard errors fall and you can find practically any point estimate statistically significant, so these huge samples mean ever more “significant” correlations to obsess over…

Anyway please leave my name out of any further discussions. the PC land of campus life could brand me an unwanted guest and I don’t want to go home yet.

It’s a pretty nice place — I visited there back in the 1990s. Though Charlottesville, I have to say, makes Knoxville seem like a sprawling metropolis. I was single then; it seemed like a better place to be married if you were on the faculty.

Meanwhile, here’s more skepticism on wellness programs. “Even more interesting is that there are no data on the program home page, in GE’s DataViz, or in the 10k or annual report on the wellness program’s ability to attenuate medical care spending or modify employee risk measures. GE does not break out medical care spending for current employees as a line item anywhere. GE does report, however, that it spent $500M on retiree health benefits in 2013, a figure it expects will increase to $600M in 2013. Ironically, the wellness program apparently is not foisted upon retirees. The only outcomes metrics explicitly cited in public GE documents and presentations have to do with participation rates, not actual changes in the prevalence of risk factors or the incidence of wellness-sensitive events in any group of GE employees. . . . GE’s half-a-loaf approach to wellness is a warning flag to every business considering a wellness program as a result of federal encouragement. If a Fortune 10 company, with effectively no resource constraints, cannot produce believable data on wellness program costs or effectiveness – or worse, chooses not to produce data because their diagnostics business depends on showing returns from diagnostic activities – what exactly does that mean? Aside from winning wellness industry accolades, which is like being in a child’s sports league where everyone finishes first and gets a trophy, despite the huge investment that they’ve made, GE cannot say definitively that its wellness strategy has brought any good things to life.”

Well, you don’t want your retirees to live longer. That costs more money. But I suspect the reason for not including metrics on actual health-cost improvement is that there aren’t any, because the programs don’t do anything. I predict that this will turn out to be a fad, with the chief beneficiaries being consultants and wellness-plan administrators.

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