Corporate Wellness Programs Lose Money

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Al Lewis and Vik Khanna, co-founders of Quizzify, a company that teaches employees how to buy and use health care, recently wrote an article for Harvard Business Review titled “Corporate Wellness Programs Lose Money“.

This was disappointing for me to read, since I am a big proponent of wellness programs.

One report cited by the authors, known as the HERO (Health Enhancement Research Organization) report estimated the potential savings from a corporate wellness program as $0.99 cents per employee, while the costs were estimated to be $1.50 per employee, for a net loss of $0.51 cents per employee.

Other research on corporate wellness programs has indicated other problems, such as:

  • Short-term weight-loss initiatives usually fail or even backfire by incentivizing people to binge before the first weigh-in and crash-diet before the follow-ups.
  • Annual physicals for healthy adults do not lower the risk of serious illness or premature death.
  • Tests and screenings can cause problems because of the possibility of getting a false-positive result. These false alarms can cause anxiety, and unnecessary follow-up tests and treatments.
  • Annual biometric screening of healthy adults, the standard in wellness programs, is not recommended by the United States Preventive Services Task Force, while many wellness vendors offer screens that are specifically not supposed to be done at all.

In a previous article, Lewis, along with co-author Tom Emerick, noted that programs such as subsidizing healthy cafeteria choices, matching personal fitness expenditures, and sponsoring company sports teams can be effective in enhancing employee wellness. However, making people complete intrusive forms and line up to get blood drawn to be diagnosed by non-physicians are viewed negatively by employees and can lead to lower employee morale.

All of the studies seem to indicate that perhaps the most cost-effective type of wellness program is one that focuses on education, as opposed to testing.

So perhaps with a bit of tweaking, corporate wellness programs can live up to their promise of improving employee health and productivity, while lowering health-care related costs for employers.

I certainly hope that Villanova does not discontinue its wellness program, known as NovaFit.

I’d hate to see my annual reimbursement for going to the gym taken away; it makes feel like a professional athlete, getting paid to workout. If only Nike would sponsor me as well…

 

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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