June 3, 2014
11,000 Producers Can’t All Be Wrong. . . or Can They?
by Al Lewis
Just when you’d think that wellness vendor claims can’t get any wackier, here comes Wellsteps’ ROI Calculator, which claims that companies can reduce healthcare costs to a level below zero (meaning, by the way, that you would have pay commissions to your clients). Even crazier — if that’s possible — look at the left-hand part of the calculation under “Enter Target Data.” Wellsteps’ calculator claims this impossible reduction can be produced by getting all your employees to gain weight and smoke.
In all fairness to Wellsteps, when this problem with the calculator was recently highlighted simultaneously both on The Health Care Blog and in the hard copy of Surviving Workplace Wellness, Wellsteps immediately apologized and changed its model to be more realistic.
Hello? This is the wellness industry, where neither rules of math nor rules of epidemiology nor rules of ethics apply. So, Wellsteps kept the model the same. The company has known its model is wrong since at least October (that’s when I pointed out the problem to the company — which, I presume, already knew.) The company has updated the model for other reasons but never bothered to take out the impossible claims. Instead, the company has elected to continue to attempt to mislead your and your colleagues.
As an aside, my college assigned me a freshman roommate from Park Avenue who was like the bad seed in the Richie Rich comics. This guy would have a snifter of cognac before bed. At one point, I accused him of being decadent. “Decadent, Al?” he snapped back. “Let me tell you about decadent. I spent last summer at a summer camp – everyone was there, Caroline Kennedy, everyone – where we played tennis on the Riviera for a month and then went skiing in the Alps.”
I had to admit he had a point. “Boy, Lance, you’re right. That really is decadent.”
“Al,” he replied, “I haven’t even gotten to the decadent part yet.”
Likewise, I haven’t even gotten to the shocking part yet. Wellsteps’ response to being exposed was to double down on dishonesty and to blast out the following email, which several of you forwarded to me (thank you):
From: Dr. Steven Aldana [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, May 1, 2014 10:34 AM
Subject: 11,000 Producers Can’t Be Wrong
So far this year 11,000 brokers and consultants have used the FREE worksite wellness ROI calculator to show clients the financial impact wellness can have on health care costs, presenteeism and absenteeism. This calculator is based on every wellness ROI study ever published.
The output gives brokers client-specific reports on the financial impact of wellness. We built the WellSteps ROI calculator and provide it free to help professionals like you make a business case for wellness.
We invite you to try the calculator for yourself. See how you can:
· Estimate the impact of wellness on health care costs, absenteeism and presenteeism
· Produce client-specific reports that show wellness impact &
· Help your clients implement effective wellness programs
Steven Aldana, Ph.D.
Wellsteps astounding conclusion is that “11,000 producers can’t be wrong,” meaning popularity matters more than possibility. And how do they even know how many of the 11,000 hits to their site were from “producers”? You can use the calculator anonymously. Besides, how could not one of the 11,000 producers who looked at this model have noticed that the results are blatantly impossible? Just linking to this model doesn’t mean you agree with it.
I’ve already used “shocking” and “astounding,” so I am running out of adjectives here, leaving only one left to do justice to the claim in this email that the Wellsteps calculator is “based on every wellness ROI study ever published.” That adjectives is: “sociopathic.”
But wait — there’s more…
First, while I couldn’t fit the claim into the screenshot, the website says “Wellsteps’ ROI is guaranteed.” Because a mathematically impossible result can’t be achieved let alone guaranteed, I would urge people to contact Wellsteps to take the company up on this offer. It will end up owing your clients lots of money.
Second, Mr. Aldana, together with a colleague, Ron Goetzel of Truven Health Analytics, presented a webinar where they accused me of lying “like a tobacco industry executive before Congress.” Well, it’s doubtful that even tobacco industry executives would agree with Wellsteps’ rosy assessment that smoking will reduce healthcare spending.
Finally, there is something in this model that we heartily concur with. Review the last sentence in the upper right corner of the screenshot. It says: “You can email a colleague about this tool.” We concur: Email everyone you know and tell them what a tool this is.
The cavalry is coming soon: After years of exposing the shock-and-awe of wellness vendor math and outcomes, this column will be announcing a new, foolproof way to distinguish the legitimate vendors from the, uh, tools…completely free. The annoucement will be June 26, but anyone who would like an advance peek can write to me and sign a non-disclosure agreement, and I’ll spill the beans.