Did the Wellness Industry Just Admit Fraud?

Hopefully at least a few of you have lamented –we’ll settle for “noticed” — our absence from The Health Care Blog for the last six months.   There are two reasons for that.  First, in the immortal words of the great philosopher Gerald Ford, “When a man is asked to make a speech, the first thing he has to do is decide what to say.”   Likewise, we need something compelling to say, and at this point yet-another-vendor-making-up-outcomes is old news, and in any event there is now an entire website devoted to exposing lies in wellness.  We, uh, take appellations and kick posteriors.

Also, our exposés were backfiring, having exactly the opposite of the intended effect.  For example, our THCB essay pointed out that Health Fitness Corporation’s Nebraska program should have its C. Everett Koop Award revoked because HFC admitted lying about saving the lives of Nebraskan cancer victims  who it turns out never had cancer in the first place.  Instead of revoking the award, the chair of the awards committee, Ron Goetzel, has subsequently twice called the Nebraska program a “best practice.”

Likewise, after another THCB essay pointed out that Mercer “validated” Staywell’s savings for British Petroleum, even though Staywell’s claimed savings–already mathematically impossible–were 100 times what Staywell itself had said could be saved.  Mr. Goetzel counterpunched by – you guessed it—giving their program a Koop Award too

Second, we have spent the last six months answering the perennial question: “So what would you do instead of wellness?” by developing www.quizzify.com.  Quizzify teaches employees that “just because its healthcare doesn’t mean it’s good for you,” and does it in an enjoyable Jeopardy-meets-health benefit education-meets-Comedy Central way, as playing the demo game will show.  Quizzify’s savings are, uniquely in this industry, 100% guaranteed. 

The Unclaimed $1-million award

But we digress.  The news is that we want to settle one and for all the he said-she said debate about whether wellness saves money the old-fashioned way:  we have offered a million-dollar reward for anyone who can show that wellness isn’t a horrible investment.  All someone has to do was show that the employer community as a whole breaks even on its wellness investment.

The inspiration for this award was that a group calling itself “The Global Wellness Institute Roundtable” just released a report criticizing us for “mud-slinging on ROI” (which, of course, itself is mud-slinging.)  We are not familiar with this group.  Their headliner seems to be a Dr. Michael Roizen.  If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he used to work with Dr. Oz, though to Dr. Roizen’s credit, he was not implicated in the Congressional investigation of Dr. Oz.

Their excuse for passing on this award is that we are requiring that the loser cover the honoraria and expenses for the panel that is going to judge each entry, plus the venue, plus promotion, etc.  This is estimated at $100,000, and the loser pays. (The panelists will be drawn from a list of 200 leading health policy gurus.  Each side picks 2 and those 4 pick the fifth.)  One could infer they must think they are going to lose – even with 10-to-1 odds and even if all they have to do is show a 1-to-1 ROI — if they won’t escrow this amount.  (We, on the other hand, have to escrow $1.1-million to cover the reward and the panel.)

Not being taken up on this offer is, of course, the entire point of making the offer.  The wellness industry’s inaction will prove what numerous gaffes and misstatements  have already revealed:  the wellness industry leaders know workplace wellness vendors are basically committing fraud, telling employers they’re saving money (through some biostatistical sleight-of-hand that our book Surviving Workplace Wellness exposes). 

For them, wellness is all about maintaining the façade of saving money so that they don’t get fired from the employers they’ve been snookering.

And if there were ever any doubt about that, they are resolving it right now.

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4 replies »

  1. One of the wellness programs at one of the workplaces I am familiar with does a finger stick cholesterol and a whole bunch of other things. Then it rates the employee and that rating is directly involved in what percentage of the insurance bill they pay.

    A cholesterol is meaningless unless it is done with an HDL and LDL. It is based upon distribution so the same cholesterol number could be very good or very bad.

    They also ask about exercise, but one is limited to the type of regimen they have listed in their program. Thus the working mother of three young children that has to dress, feed , pick up, put down before she leaves the house and do the same when she returns with added task of bathing the children is felt to be sedentary because she didn’t run for 20 minutes.

    Would you please reverse your offer so I can prove the stupidity of at least this wellness program I am familiar with? 🙂

  2. They can have their $100,000 back if they win. And all they have to do is show the average wellness program breaks even, meaning isn’t a horrible investment. If they did this the other way around — I had to put up $100,000 to show the average wellness program loses money, in order to claim $1 million — I’d be on it the next day. I wouldn’t think there was anything “fishy” about it. i’d be making plans to spend my winnings.

  3. Ok. Something Rotten In Denmark.

    Your critique of wellness has many valid points, but ..

    1. A million dollar contest where you have to post a $100K bond to be eligible to claim the prize. Seriously fishy.

    2. The exercise you describe is ludicrous. Asking wellness vendors to justify a ridiculously inflated number reflecting an entire industry is absurd, a bit like asking the defense industry to produce a study validating defense spending.

    3. Interpreting a lack of response to your silly chest thumping as a victory is just silly.