Wellness Movement Is A Worthy Entree, But Hold The Guilt and Shame

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , January 18, 2010

The Harvard researchers correctly note that this is also about money and class. Many workers on the lower end of the socio-economic ladder — the ones who could most benefit from reduced healthcare costs — are also more likely to be overweight, or to suffer from other chronic health problems that wellness programs are supposed to address.

Will these also be the people who are more likely to be punished with higher premiums if they don't meet their metrics?

We're touching upon a key friction point in the wellness movement. If people make conscientious and disciplined decision to take better care of themselves, exercise, watch what they eat, why shouldn't they be rewarded with lower healthcare costs? On the other hand, if we reward people for improving health metrics, are we then discriminating against coworkers who don't?

The wellness movement could be the perfect tonic for a graying, fat nation. But it's based on individual initiative, responsibility, and reward. Without incentives, the wellness movement could resemble a warm-and-fuzzy soccer tournament where even the last-place team gets a trophy.

On the other hand, if the incentives are too rigid, the people who would most likely benefit will also be penalized if they don't succeed. Their poor health will remain an growing expense that everyone else will share. That's not a good cost containment strategy.

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John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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