Vendors of “pry, poke and prod” programs often wax rhapsodic about “Wellness 2.0.” Translation: HRA-screening-checkup programs have historically failed. Likewise, vendors talk about how more “wellness champions” or better “communications plans” or higher incentives/penalties are needed to make wellness work–as though it’s HR’s fault vendors are misrepresenting what their programs can do.
Unfortunately for those vendors, tinkering with wellness is like tinkering with alchemy. Nothing can turn “pry, poke and prod” lead into gold. Understanding that wellness is alchemy is why we’ve offered the million-dollar reward…and also why that reward has had no takers. Wellness outcomes measurement is junk arithmetic, to go with the junk science of screening the stuffing out of employees in order to hyperdiagnose them. All told, vendored wellness is the kind of junk that gives junk a bad name.
We’ve covered the junk science at length, showing how vendor after vendor ignores clinical guidelines either because they don’t understand healthcare or because they want to maximize profits. Today we are covering junk arithmetic.
Here is Part One of the very simple mathematical proof of why “pry, poke and prod” can’t possibly save money. All this information comes from the wellness industry’s own materials, notably the HERO Outcomes Guidelines Report. They can’t “challenge the data” because it’s their data. All we’ve done is fashion it into a proof.
The Size of the Pie: “Potentially Preventable Hospitalizations” (PPHs)
The HERO Report places the current PPH rate at 2.62 per 1000. (It was once higher — 3.14, as noted below — but usual care improvements continue to reduce admissions for both asthma and cardio/IVD, reducing the need for wellness even as vendors insist that all your employees are getting sicker.)
That same page (23) of that same report lists the episode costs of a PPH at $22,500.
The product of those two components? About $59,000 per 1000 people, or $59/person.
And alas you can forget about adding other healthcare cost savings from wellness to that $59. That’s wishful thinking. The Goetzel crowd not only admits they don’t decrease, but says they are likely to increase (p.22)
The Cost of Wellness
Against that $59, what is the cost of a wellness program? $150/employee, according to Ron Goetzel. (Your cost could be higher or lower, obviously. Wellness vendors collect about $7 billion by prying, poking and prodding about 70 million people, so typical vendor fees are about $100.)
Therefore even a wellness program that eliminates every potentially preventable hospitalization without increasing doctor visits or those other listed expenses would lose money–$91, if Mr. Goetzel’s advice is taken.
And this is according to the wellness industry’s own cost figures, which of course are highly suspect, largely because their costs count vendor fees only. Our figures would add in all the other costs of wellness. Though the HERO Report ignored these other costs in its own calculations, it nonetheless listed them on p 11. (This list overlooks the hefty consulting fees involved in making up positive outcomes figures to show to the C-Suite. This is no surprise given that Mercer was a co-sponsor of this report.)
Also remember that this $91 loss is for a perfect wellness program –one that eliminates all $59 in spending with no added preventive services cost. Coming soon is the second half of the proof, showing that wellness programs are anything but perfect.