Vik Khanna & Al Lewis Concede Wellness Wars Are Over
The wellness industry's two most important and relentless critics, Vik Khanna and Al Lewis, concede in their most recent essay that the wellness wars are over.
USA (PRUnderground) March 26th, 2015
Creating a surprising and unexpected consensus with both major policy and corporate implications, leading wellness critics Al Lewis and Vik Khanna, authors of Surviving Workplace Wellness and the blog, www.TheySaidWhat.net, have conceded the end to what RAND’s leading wellness expert Soeren Mattke’s recent posting in Health Affairs called the “Wellness Wars.”
This concession specifically endorses the shockingly candid albeit somewhat muted and possibly unintentional admissions by a group of 36 self-described industry leaders and experts representing 27 companies, published in the 88-page Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) Program Measurement and Evaluation Guide, that wellness programs damage morale and lose money.
This newfound consensus has major policy implications, as wellness programs have recently been the subject of Senate hearings, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuits and pressures placed on the White House by the Business Roundtable to ensure corporations’ ability to penalize their workforces. The debates had been based on the assumption of a trade-off between employee privacy/autonomy and cost savings that are now agreed not to exist. (Alleged health benefits of incentivized weight loss, previously another goal of wellness, had already been disproven in February’s American Journal of Managed Care.)
Specifically, page 10 of the HERO report lists the negative impact of workplace wellness on “employee morale” as a “tangential cost” of wellness, along with damage to corporate reputations (such as Honeywell’s, due to their EEOC lawsuit.). Further, Page 15 estimates vendor fees for wellness programs at $1.50 per covered member per month (PMPM), while Page 23 shows gross savings of $0.99 PMPM, leaving a net loss of $0.51, even without tallying page 10’s list of 11 costs other than vendor fees themselves.
“We now all agree directionally that the current “pry, poke, prod and punish” wellness programs are losers, culturally and financially,” says Lewis. “We still have quibbles with their findings that we are willing to overlook in order to end the argument. For instance, I wouldn’t call employee morale and corporate reputation ‘tangential costs.’ This revelation that wellness programs save 99 cents a month before fees coincides with the National Business Group on Health announcement that wellness program incentives and penalties jumped almost 20% to $693 last year. And their $0.99 savings estimate includes savings from disease management along with wellness. That figure also omits the expense of overdiagnosis from all those screenings and checkups. And total costs — as they acknowledge by only counting vendor fees — far exceed $1.50 per employee per month. But we do now totally concede that they are directionally right about the overall loss even if magnitudinally very conservative.”
This revelation from wellness industry defenders comes on the heels of a candid admission by the publisher of the American Journal of Health Promotion, consistent with this one, that randomized controlled trials of wellness programs show negative ROIs.
“Our company’s own experience mirrors their consensus,” added Khanna. Al and I have run the numbers here at www.Quizzify.com. They’re right on both counts. Wellness makes no economic sense. Most importantly, morale isn’t ‘tangential’ for us. It’s our #1 asset. The last thing we would do is line our employees up to be weighed and measured. That would seriously undermine our culture and productivity.”
Jon Robison, co-author of another book critical of conventional wellness programs called How to Build a Thriving Culture at Work, also hailed the opportunity to replace what he calls “wellness or else” because in reality “the way to have employees act like responsible, creative, thoughtful adults is to treat them that way.”
“With the wellness wars over, we hope we can all work together to end pry, poke, prod and punish programs and start doing wellness for employees instead of to them,” said Lewis. “Obviously we’re hoping Quizzify will be a part of that solution, which is why, uniquely in the industry, we guarantee improvements in both engagement and economics.”
About They Said What?
They Said What is the world’s only website devoted to the foibles, fables, and pratfalls of the workplace wellness industry. Started and run by Al Lewis and Vik Khanna, They Said What regales readers with hilarious and pointed critiques of the wildly improbable and mathematically impossible success claims of workplace wellness vendors, insurance brokers, and employers who really ought to know how to treat their employees better.
Al and Vik are co-authors of Surviving Workplace Wellness with Your Dignity, Finances, and Major Organs Intact, which is available at Amazon.com.