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Believe it or not, I do have a Day Job (www.quizzify.com), but it’s hard to focus on it when the Wellness Ignorati keep throwing me red meat. I would suspect a conspiracy to distract me masterminded by the Ignorati and my competitors, except that Quizzify doesn’t have competitors. No company except Quizzify seems to employ executives who know how to read. Otherwise, vendors would have read that insured Americans already consume far too much healthcare, so the solution should not be to force them to get even more of it, via bribes and fines.
Employee Benefit News just published a smackdown of McKesson’s 2015 Koop Award. It is based largely on our own smackdown of McKesson. The article itself predated our Unified Theory of Koop Award Cluelessness, which shows that McKesson has lots of company in fabricating outcomes — all Koop Award winners overstate savings by roughly the same mathematically and clinically impossible multiple. We call this multiple the “Goetzel Factor.”
McKesson made a big deal out of their principal investigator being a graduate student at the Harvard School of Public Health named Andrea Feigl. However, I don’t recall Ms. Feigl being in class the day I guest-lectured on wellness outcomes evaluation. Had she shown up that day, she might have avoided some of her rookie mistakes. (Bada-Bing!)
As is always the case with wellness evaluators, her defense merely confirms our findings. She is still claiming $13 million in savings, but says it’s based on a “cohort” of roughly a third (14,000) of McKesson’s 43,000 employees, whose risk collectively declined by 2%. We had observed that $13 million is about 7% of McKesson’s total spending on all 43,000 employees. Watch what happens if we accept her argument that we should only allocate the savings only to the third of McKesson’s employees who participated. In that case, instead of being 7% of total spending on the whole population, $13MM is 21% of the spending on that third. 21%! Not bad –wiping out a fifth of all McKesson’s spending by urging people to eat more broccoli. (There is no mention of their off-the-charts 27% tobacco use rate, which barely budged, and seems just slightly off-kilter for a company with an award-winning wellness program.)
This figure of course is a massive multiple of all spending on wellness-sensitive medical events (WSMEs). To achieve that savings, the program would have to wipe out WSMEs not only on all participants but also all non-participants — plus about 160,000 of their closest friends. Plausibility test, anyone?
To support that finding, she said:
“Health indicators in 2013 and 2014 were adjusted in the analysis, while several sensitivity analyses of the ‘inter-individual’ impact that used a matching approach confirmed the results.”
In other words: “I can’t explain it in English so you’ll have to take my word for it.”
She also said that I confused the narrative, that said McKesson employees lost weight, with the data, which said McKesson employees gained weight. Those would seem to be opposite results, which she calls “apples and oranges” because the narrative and the data are different. One is “descriptive” and the other is based on “repeated cross-sections.” So it’s OK for these results to completely contradict each other. Got it.
In any event, neither gaining a little weight nor losing a little weight generates a 21% cost savings, especially when tobacco use is basically unchanged (-1%).
The bottom line: there was no plausibility test, no attempt to reconcile the narrative findings with the data, no curiosity about how such a trivial risk reduction could generate such a substantial reduction in total costs, no understanding of participation bias, no understanding of population health, and no concern that neither tobacco use nor weight changes could possibly support the financial findings.
In other words, McKesson was a shoo-in for a Koop Award.
Update, January 9: Actually it’s even worse than I thought. Kudos to Robert Dawkins, for pointing out on Linkedin that I was crediting McKesson with a 1% decline in tobacco usage over this period…but if you look at the CDC data, it turns out that the rest of the country declined by a greater percentage over the same period. So McKesson quite literally achieved less than nothing both in weight and in tobacco.