Health Economist Blasts Wellness Programs

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media , July 15, 2013

Disease management expert and author Al Lewis lays out his case against health-contingent wellness programs: The concept of health risk assessments "is advice opposite of what doctors tell you to do. The arithmetic can't save money. Every vendor who reports savings lies."

Al Lewis, a disease management expert and health economist, and Tom Emerick, a health benefits consultant and former benefits VP at Wal-Mart, believe that spending more on wellness programs increases healthcare costs. In their book, Cracking Health Costs: How to Cut Your Company's Costs and Provide Employees Better Care, they say human resources departments lack the focus and data analysis skill to adequately evaluate their company wellness programs, and instead they rely on vendors to take care of their employees.  


Al Lewis

In a phone conversation, Lewis explained what's wrong with the wellness system:  

HLM: What are we talking about with workplace wellness?

Lewis: I'm completely in line with the vast majority of your readers in thinking that the culture of health is something that a company should really want to achieve.  

Then there's health-contingent wellness, where a wellness company is essentially playing doctor. They're getting involved in things they know less than nothing about. They are as likely to cause harm as to help people. The issue is that there's a reason you have to go to medical school to be a doctor. The reason is it's not that easy.  

The health risk assessments and the screenings are on such high levels with these programs that your own doctor would find them unnecessary. HRAs create problems of their own with advice that isn't medically accepted.

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6 comments on "Health Economist Blasts Wellness Programs"

Bryan Noar (7/17/2013 at 8:12 PM)
This was just published today ... based on the numbers, perhaps it should be considered for workplace wellness programs:

Al Lewis (7/16/2013 at 7:35 PM)
Thank you for the thoughtful comments. Mr. Broner, perhaps it won't surprise you to know that many hospitals serve junk in their cafeterias AND have wellness programs. The goal of the hospital is for employees to eat on-site rather than spend time going elsewhere, so they serve what people like to eat.

Steve Lippert (7/16/2013 at 2:52 PM)
Author paints with such a broad brush. After telling us what a waste most wellness programs are, he then suggest building trails, workout facilities etc. Now who benefits from that? Of course, all the motivated healthy people that probably aren't your problem anyway. Bottom line to me is that if people choose to live unhealthy, no amount of coaxing may change that. But at least they can PAY more for their unhealthy behavior. Our author doesn't seem to consider/understand that.




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