The Wellness Trap by Pat Conrad MD


A decade or more ago, I developed a visceral, negative reaction to the word “wellness”, cringing at the obvious emotional manipulation that presaged naked marketing ploys by Big Health, coercion by government stooges, and ostentatious concern by advocacy groups of the ostentatiously concerned. To me “wellness” rapidly, almost instantaneously moved from the suggestion of an actual good idea to presumptuous buzzword overnight. Who couldn’t be in favor of weeeellllllness? Do you actually want to kill people??

A fun little article on Bloomberg gives us some insight into the wellnesser’s bill, that the entire concept is nothing but a mechanism for (projected) cost saving and crowd control. The bottom line is that a lot of folks receiving employer-provided health insurance are being told to join the wellness ranks…or fork over a lot of cash.

“About 80 percent of large employers are running wellness programs that ask workers to share detailed health information on themselves, and about a third of them require employees to pay additional costs of as much as $1,600 a year for not participating, according to benefits consultant Towers Watson. The data collected can get quite personal, based on interviews with wellness vendors and questionnaires reviewed by Bloomberg News: Do you ever drink and drive? Are you sexually active? What diseases have you been diagnosed with? Are you experiencing stress at home?” No but I AM experiencing stress at having to deal with questions that are none of your *&$^%##$%@&^# business!

How I long for the days when the Rand Corporation was calculating the throw-weights of Soviet nuclear missiles, and gaming brinkmanship scenarios to avoid said throwing. Now this: “As health-insurance costs have climbed, companies have turned to outside vendors that promise to identify employees most likely to have high medical bills and offer tips and coaching to help them improve their health. That’s created a $6 billion industry with hundreds of companies devoted to offering wellness programs, according to a study by Rand Corp. To identify those high-risk employees, wellness companies say they have to conduct health screenings of a client’s entire workforce.” Do you like BBQ, you undisciplined slob? Have you ever snuck out back to the dumpster for a quick puff, you uncaring low-rent?

“Employers that use wellness programs say they never see an individual’s health information, which is typically stored with an outside vendor or health-insurance company and protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act… Instead, they get aggregated data to help them better understand the health needs of their workforce for planning purposes, said Gretchen Young, a senior vice president of health policy at the Erisa Industry Committee, which lobbies on behalf of the benefits interests of major corporations.” I think you can digest that statement without any further comment from me.

Wendy Schobert is suing her former employer, Orion Energy Systems, Inc., via the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

If she didn’t participate in the company wellness program, “she’d have to pay the full cost of her insurance — $5,000 a year. Even so, Schobert said she feared her health data wouldn’t be kept confidential, so she accepted the insurance cost and opted out.”

Well ha, ha, ha. Her refusal to agree to a “wellness” health screening landed her in a meeting to “quash any potential attitude of hers,” according to legal filings recounting her experience. A month later, she was “fired in retaliation for her decision [and] out of work for more than a year.” Orion denied the allegation, and has not published her reason for being fired.

– “76 percent of companies with more than 1,000 employees ask workers to give a blood sample to test for certain conditions, like high cholesterol or blood sugar…at Honeywell International, Inc. employees’ blood is tested for the presence of nicotine, high cholesterol and irregular blood sugar, and their height and weight are recorded. Honeywell also asks employees’ spouses to disclose such information if they are on the company’s insurance plan.”

– “At pharmacy chain CVS Health Corp., employees were asked on a health questionnaire whether they drink and are sexually active.” Why do I suspect that the answer “yes, as much as possible” to either of those questions results in higher premiums?

– “Johnson & Johnson’s wellness program, which is run by a third-party vendor, asks questions about employees’ moods, stress at work and home, and job demands in addition to collecting data on their height, weight and eating and exercising habits.”

– “J&J employees who don’t take part are ineligible for a $500 discount on health insurance, and CVS makes workers pay $600 more a year in insurance costs. Honeywell imposes a $500 surcharge on employees and their spouses, and employees who don’t participate miss out on as much as $1,500 deposited in their health savings accounts.”

Those big, evil, rich corporations are real bastards for getting into everyone’s business, right? Weeeellll…the fact is, most people have bought into the idea that their employer owes them health coverage as part of their job. How many millions of people think that their boss is obligated to pay for their health care, yet has no business knowing what exactly they are paying for? Over the last seven decades the government has fostered, accelerated, manipulated, and mandated the expectation of employer health coverage. And the purpose of any corporation is plainly, to make money. If they can make more money by manipulating the habits of the populations for which they have been put in charge, then why shouldn’t they? We are now learning that any requirement for an organization to care for us makes us the de facto property of that organization. Why would anyone expect a benevolent government, once it’s providing all of our health care, to care any less about our wellness?

63000cookie-checkThe Wellness Trap by Pat Conrad MD