Company wellness plans don't make you healthier
A study mandated in Obamacare says employees don't benefit, either through fewer illnesses or lower costs.
Those programs are essential to the already scrutinized Affordable Care Act, the health care insurance reform law known as Obamacare. But Reuters has discovered that not only aren't wellness programs living up to the claims of companies that promote them, but their failure is also likely to cost employees sought-after rewards and bonuses once the health care mandate kicks in.
Rand delivered this congressionally mandated analysis to the U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services last fall, but it still hasn't been released. Sources told Reuters they expected it to be made public last winter. Reuters read the report when it was briefly posted online by Rand on Friday before being taken down.
Maybe it's because the report found, for example, that people who participate in such programs lose an average of only one pound a year for three years. Or that such a program "was not associated with significant reductions in total cholesterol level." Or that anti-smoking programs work only "in the short term."
That isn't great for the programs' claims that they reduce medical spending as employees become healthier and avoid heart disease, cancer and stroke. In fact, workers who participated in a wellness program saw a mere $2.38 drop in health care costs per month in the first year of the program and $3.46 less in the fifth year. That's statistically insignificant enough to be comparable to not doing anything at all.
Oh, and those programs don't catch disease or improve health enough to prevent emergencies. "We do not detect statistically significant decreases in cost and use of emergency department and hospital care" as a result of the programs, Rand found.
The report's results will take on a whole lot more significance next year, when the ACA allows employers to reward employees who participate in workplace wellness programs with 30% of the cost of insurance premiums, or about $1,620 annually per worker. If an employer is subsidizing employees who use its program but the company doesn't see lower health care costs as a result, it can absorb the costs and raise premiums across the board or only for workers who don't participate.
Despite this, companies are still on board with wellness programs. Employers told Rand they were "overwhelmingly" confident that workplace wellness reduces medical costs, though only 44% have evaluated their efforts and just 2% have precise savings estimates.
So who's doing those calculations? The companies selling businesses on those wellness programs.
Make them pay money for their risky behavior and you'll start to see results.
Government spending huge amounts of money on something that is useless. What's new here?
If you have ever participated in a wellness plan you know why they don't work. My experience was it was someone sitting n a call center making just over minimum wage using a script to bother me once a month about how I could be healthier. The worker was different every time... and they just wanted to me to set a goal so they could finish the call. A better plan would involve someone you develop a relationship over several face to face meetings... and you might even want to include my spouse in the meeting.
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