Let’s climb into the WABAC Machine (and, yes, that’s the way it’s spelled) and set the dial for 2008.
Then-candidate Barack Obama, campaigning on the promise of universal health coverage, enlisted Harvard professor David Cutler as his key adviser on that topic. Business lobbying associations were not thrilled about their members having to cover all their full-time employees and incorrectly assumed, then as now, that the major drivers of healthcare cost were employees smoking, overeating, and not exercising. Prof. Cutler suggested, quite correctly, that one way to assuage that concern would be to allow employers to spend less money covering employees with those three health habits.
Fast-forward to 2009, when it appeared that — with enough concessions to enough vested interests — the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could become a reality. Business lobbying groups were, then as now, powerful entities. Using Prof. Cutler’s suggestion, they were pacified by allowing businesses to tie up to 30% of total premium dollars to employee health (in practice, largely employee weight). Generally, the business lobbying groups engineered this withhold in the shadows. It wasn’t until 2015 that one of those business groups, the Business Roundtable, publicly admitted that the 30% withholdwas the main reason they bought into the ACA.
Today on Health in 2 Point 00, Jess and I report from a hedgehog cafe in Tokyo. In this episode, Jess asks me about Bright Health’s $200 million raise and the significance of Amazon’s new EMR product. We also talk about Health 2.0 Asia-Japan, which is happening right now (December 4-5) in Tokyo, showing us the health care market outside of the U.S. Look forward to hearing from some great speakers at the conference, including John Bass from Hashed Health on blockchain, Fred Trotter on security, David Ewing Duncan on the new wellness and personalized medicine, and Adam Pellegrini from Fitbit. And, of course, Jess will be interviewing just about everyone—including a hedgehog—about innovation for WTF Health —Matthew Holt
It’s late late at #hin2pt00 central. But somehow Jessica DaMassa wakes me up enough to get my views on Redbrick & Virgin Pulse, the VA finally inking the Cerner deal and Iora Health getting another $100m to build out their primary care model. Be warned, Jessica thinks I’m not full of cheer about any of it!–Matthew Holt
What do employers want more than anything? Healthy, engaged, productive, energized, and thriving employees who provide great customer service and high quality products. What they have is all too often the antithesis of that.
This article is about why and how to move away from “wellness” to “wellbeing.” Wellness is one dimensional—the absence of illness. But for employees to thrive, they need so much more. The essence? They need to be happy with what they are doing and where they are doing it. Without that, good physical health, engagement, and productivity are almost impossible. It’s as simple as that, and with happiness comes success on multiple levels for the employee and the employer. And yet the all too many of today’s American employees are dreadfully unhappy with their jobs and bosses. It’s time for that to change.
The companies that successfully address the deteriorating health (both physical and mental/emotional) of their employees have a huge competitive advantage, and not just from reduced healthcare coverage, but in cultivating more enthusiastic, productive, and engaged employees which drive competitive and financial success through better products and better service.
Dee Edington confirmed this in his book Zero Trends when he wrote: “Our mission is to create shareholder value. We create shareholder value because we have innovative, creative, and quality products and services. We have innovative, creative, and quality products and services because we have healthy and productive people.”
This is, as we say in Massachusetts, “wicked important.” Yet most American CEOs do not yet see it as even rising to their level of attention. That is nothing short of astonishing given how much they pay for healthcare coverage and the truly poor value they receive in return. Starbucks pays more for employee coverage than for coffee. GM pays more for coverage than for steel. Businesses don’t realize it, but they are truly in the healthcare coverage business whether they like it or not. And that doesn’t even begin to total up the costs of disengagement, absenteeism, and turnover.Continue reading…
As a CEO of a company in a competitive industry, I cross my fingers that my competitors will implement wellness programs.
Indeed, the more comprehensive their programs, the better it is for me. Those competitors will suffer increased healthcare costs, compounded by declines in productivity. Best of all, these programs’ negative morale impact may lead some employees to quit, thus facilitating our own recruiting efforts. (This is especially true for overweight employees, whom wellness vendors really seem to dislike. We, on the other hand, find employee weight makes no difference in either productivity or health spending.)
So hopefully my competitors will disregard the rest of this posting.
As background for those readers who are mercifully still unfamiliar with workplace wellness programs, they generally consist of four components (called “pry, poke, prod and punish” programs as shorthand):
1. A “health risk assessment,” or HRA, that pries into your employees’ personal lives, often asking about their drinking habits, marriage etc.
2. A “biometric screen” where technicians in white coats come to your workplace and poke your employees with needles to test them for diseases that in many cases, the government’s clinical guidelines say they shouldn’t be tested for. A small but increasing number of programs demand employee DNA, which isn’t in any clinical guideline.
In 1994, I recorded a fictitious interview with the person whom I imagined to be the last well person on earth. (1) I mistakenly thought well people were disappearing and I wanted to call attention to their disappearance. I missed the big picture and now want to correct my misconceptions. Well people are not disappearing; instead, a new species of man is emerging: homo clinicus.
An evolution of the symbiotic relationship between man and medicine has been going on for some time. Lewis Thomas deserves the credit for an early spotting of the new species, first observed in America. He called our attention to this phenomenon in the 1970s.
Nothing has changed so much in the health-care system over the past 25 years as the public’s perception of its own health. The change amounts to a loss of confidence in the human form. The general belief these days seems to be that the body is fundamentally flawed, subject to disintegration at any moment, always on the verge of mortal disease, always in need of continual monitoring and support by health-care professionals. This is a new phenomenon in our society.
“Where in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) does it mandate that every health insurance policy must include a free annual checkup?”
I posed this question to Al Lewis and Vik Khanna in the comments of their recent post entitled: The High Cost of Free Checkups, where they argue against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that requires “free checkups for everyone.” They cite a recent New York Times Op-ed authored by ACA co-architect, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, that essentially debunks the link between annual checkups and overall health outcomes. For Lewis and Khanna the solution is simple, we need to “remove the ACA provision that makes annual checkups automatically immune from deductibles and copays.” But for me there’s an enormous problem with their argument: The ACA doesn’t actually have any such provision.
After raising the issue in the comments section of the post, Mr. Lewis responded informing me that: “It’s definitely there” and “You’ll have to find it on your own, though — I unfortunately have to get back to my day job.” What Mr. Lewis doesn’t consider with his quick dismissal, is that I have already looked. I’ve combed through the law and other policy guidance, rules and regs; searching for any mention of this required annual wellness exam, physical, visit, or any other linguistic derivative. It doesn’t exist.
So what gives? Lewis and Khanna aren’t the only ones who’ve mentioned this “free” Obamacare benefit. Even when researching this piece I had to engage in a lengthy discussion with a friend who is a healthcare policy advisor, unexpectedly defending my position. This claim has to be coming from somewhere, surely people smarter than me have gotten it right?
Harvard Professor Katherine Baicker is arguably most acclaimed health policy researcher at arguably the most acclaimed (and not even arguably, the best-endowed) school of public health in the country. Her seminal account of the effect of Medicaid coverage on utilization and health status is a classic. As luck would have it, in 2008 Oregon used a lottery to ration available Medicaid slots. A lottery controls for motivation and as such eliminates participant-non-participant bias, since everyone who enters the lottery wants to participate. That meant only one major variable was in play, which was enrollment in Medicaid or not.
Chance favors the well-prepared, and Professor Baicker jumped on this research windfall. She found that providing Medicaid–and thereby facilitating access to basic preventive medical care–for the previously uninsured did not improve physical health status, but did increase diagnoses and utilization. Because of the soundness of the methodology, the conclusion were unassailable – more access to medical care does not improve outcomes or optimize utilization, which is a proxy for spending. (We ourselves reached a similar conclusion based on a similar analysis on North Carolina Medicaid’s medical home model.)
Yet Professor Baicker herself used exactly the opposite methodology to reach the exact opposite conclusion for workplace wellness. And that’s where the identity crisis begins.
She and two colleagues published a meta-analysis in 2010 of participant-vs-non-participant workplace wellness programs. Somehow—despite her affinity for Oregon’s lottery control—she found this opposite methodology to be acceptable. She concluded that workplace wellness generated a very specific two significant-digit 3.27-to-1 ROI from health care claims reduction alone, with another 2.37-to-1 from absenteeism reduction. The title of the article–now celebrating its fifth anniversary as the only work by a well-credentialed author in a prestigious journal ever published in support of wellness ROI—was equally unambiguous: Workplace Wellness Can Generate Savings.
There are certainly many points of contention and areas for continued discussion on this topic. It turns out that Lewis et al. and I agree on many things, and there are other areas where we see things differently.Continue reading…