Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wellness Programs Rob the Sick

The headline on Bloomberg blared, "Wellness Programs Cost the Sick". Really? This should be fun.

Workplace wellness programs sound like a win-win: Employees get discounted gym memberships or help quitting cigarettes, and their company gets a healthier staff and lower insurance rates.

Well, that's the theory at least.

Actuarial studies covering thousands of employees over the last 25 years or so don't bear that out. It's like a politician promising to cut your health insurance premiums by $2500 if you buy in to his plan.

Wellness programs are short run fixes to long term problems. They are like New Years resolutions.

Some will make lifestyle changes for a while but most will eventually slip back in old habits.

Employers may entice them in to losing weight, changing diet, stop using tobacco or enroll in a gym but most will fall off the wagon before the first 12 months have passes.

The health reform law will soon let employers reward workers’ efforts to get healthier with discounts of up to 30 percent of their health-care costs, up from 20 percent. They will also be allowed to penalize employees who fail to meet health goals by the same amount—a provision that could be abused to “weed out sick workers,”

Weed out sick workers has such a bad sound.

All these incentive programs really do is reward those with healthy lifestyles rather than forcing them to subsidize the additional cost of insuring obese tobacco users.

What's wrong with that?

The Georgetown authors cite one wellness program that wields a stick. It suggests employers raise deductibles from, say, $500 to $2,500. Workers can then “earn credits” worth $500 each to lower the deductible if they meet certain targets for four factors: body-mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and tobacco use. A nonsmoking, normal-weight employee with healthy cholesterol and blood pressure winds up back at the $500 deductible. “If you’re on the wrong end of any of those four tests, your costs have gone up,” says Volk.

You say that like it is a bad thing.

If you have a history of moving violations, you pay more for car insurance.

If you don't pay your bills on time, you pay a higher interest rate.

But if you don't take care of your health you are supposed to be given a free pass?

How sick is that?
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