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Health Economist Blasts Wellness Programs

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media, July 15, 2013

HLM: What advice isn't medically accepted?

Lewis: The government very clearly says that screening should be done less frequently, but benefits consultants and vendor communities are saying precisely the opposite. And we're penalizing people for not showing up for the screenings.  

Or when they do go to the screenings, it can be a false positive, which is why you're not supposed to get screened as often. You can tell hundreds they have diseases they don't. In an attempt to create a culture of health with HRAs, you create a culture of deceit. Instead of a culture of wellness, it's a culture of sickness, designed to tell people how sick they are.

If a doctor told you to do these things, and they did scans with no cause, they'd lose their license. If a screening company does it, they aren't MDs, so they can give you all the advice they want and they aren't regulated.

HLM: So you're saying that the wellness industry business is essentially a scam? How has the industry responded to you?

Lewis: The MO of the wellness industry, when they are faced with these issues is to ignore them. Everything I and others have ever written, with exception of [one] RAND report, they've ignored. No response to my Wall Street Journal article, and the last book I wrote [Why Nobody Believes the Numbers] is a trade best seller, but from the wellness industry, [there's been] no review or acknowledgment that the book even existed. If [they thought the wellness industry] was defensible then [they] would acknowledge and defend it.

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6 comments on "Health Economist Blasts Wellness Programs"


Bryan Noar (7/17/2013 at 8:12 PM)
This was just published today ... based on the numbers, perhaps it should be considered for workplace wellness programs: http://markets.cbsnews.com/cbsnews/news/read/24655964/Workplace_Wellness_Cost_Analysis

Al Lewis (7/16/2013 at 7:35 PM)
Thank you for the thoughtful comments. Mr. Broner, perhaps it won't surprise you to know that many hospitals serve junk in their cafeterias AND have wellness programs. The goal of the hospital is for employees to eat on-site rather than spend time going elsewhere, so they serve what people like to eat.

Steve Lippert (7/16/2013 at 2:52 PM)
Author paints with such a broad brush. After telling us what a waste most wellness programs are, he then suggest building trails, workout facilities etc. Now who benefits from that? Of course, all the motivated healthy people that probably aren't your problem anyway. Bottom line to me is that if people choose to live unhealthy, no amount of coaxing may change that. But at least they can PAY more for their unhealthy behavior. Our author doesn't seem to consider/understand that.