Tag Archives: fitbit

Overcoming Concerns by Millennials

According to a recent article by Policy Genius, “The cost of college has skyrocketed over the last decade, resulting in $1.4 trillion of outstanding student loan debt. The burden of educational debt weighs greatest on millennials — those born between 1981 and 1996.

Not surprisingly, college debt is influencing their behavior and spending habits. Research shows millennials are holding back on buying homes and making other big-ticket purchases because they are afraid of taking on more debt. Millennial families are also postponing other financial outlays, such as life insurance, because of debt concerns, according to a recent survey by SE2.

Marriage and kids continue to be the life-changing events that trigger purchases of life insurance. As millennials buck the trend, insurers have to be versatile to adapt to their consumer tastes and lifestyles to capture this vastly untapped market segment.

Start with technology

Speed and convenience are increasingly critical to a good brand experience. Those raised as digital natives do not want to wait for several weeks for underwriting to size up an applicant’s risk. To be sure, a number of insurers have leveraged technology to accelerate the cycle time, but there is still far more we have to do. According to a recent report from Celent, cycle times for modest face amount carriers has dropped from 33 to 26 days, which is a solid improvement but still almost four weeks.

See also: The Great Millennial Shift  

Insurers rely on a mountain of public information — from motor-vehicle records to credit information to property records — to properly assess risk and price premiums. One late monthly payment on college debt can cause a credit score to drop, which could drive up premiums. What if price-sensitive millennials could offset the negative of a low credit score by sharing data from their Fitbit exercise app?

New York’s top financial regulator is taking a step in this direction by allowing life insurers to use data from social media and other nontraditional sources when setting premium rates. Through leveraging data available through electronic medical records and health claims data, more and more carriers are able to provide a fluidless underwriting experience without an APS (Attending Physician’s Statement). In the digital era, many of these digital natives are tracking everything from the food they eat to the number of steps they take every day. Our research shows that millennials might be more willing to buy insurance if their real-time health data could reduce premiums.

Create an authentic experience

Millennials are increasingly more discriminating about the firms they choose to do business with, showing a preference for companies that are authentic, ethical and committed to social good.

This partiality stems in part from the 2008 financial crisis when a shortage of jobs affected the employment opportunities for older millennials. Younger millennials witnessed the pain of parents losing their jobs or their homes, or both. The scary economic news sowed a pessimism about the future and increased their desire for transparency.

See also: Why Financial Wellness Is Elusive  

Big companies have had to scramble to adjust to shifting attitudes. Mass marketing through TV advertising is proving less effective. Companies that target millennials with creative experiential campaigns are finding greater success. The engagement can be online, too, through gamification, loyalty programs and reporting on daily activities and life events. Some of the more innovative insurance carriers have seem immense success partnering with financial technology startup such as Life.io and Vitality to create customer engagement programs that has led to reduction in lapse rates and opened up new cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

Despite their financial concerns, we found that millennials value insurance and the peace of mind it provides. It falls upon the insurance industry to meet this generation where they are by creating tailored products, tools and processes that connect with how they live and consume today.

In Age of Disruption, What Is Insurance?

“Somehow we have created a monster, and it’s time to turn it on its head for our customers and think about providing some certainty of protection.” – Inga Beale, CEO, Lloyds of London

In an early-morning plenary session at this year’s InsureTech Connect in Las Vegas, Rick Chavez, partner and head of digital strategy acceleration at Oliver Wyman, described the disruption landscape in insurance succinctly: while the first phase of disruption was about digitization, the next phase will be about people. In his words, “digitization has shifted the balance of power to people,” forcing the insurance industry to radically reorient itself away from solving its own problems toward solving the problems of its customer. It’s about time.

For the 6,000-plus attendees at InsureTech Connect 2018, disruption in insurance has long been described in terms of technology. Chavez rightly urged the audience to expand its definition of disruption and instead conceive of disruption not just as a shift in technology but as a “collision of megatrends”–technological, behavioral and societal–that is reordering the world in which we live, work and operate as businesses. In this new world order, businesses and whole industries are being refashioned in ways that look entirely unfamiliar, insurance included.

This kind of disruption requires that insurance undergo far more than modernization, but a true metamorphosis, not simply shedding its skin of bureaucracy, paper applications and legacy systems but being reborn as an entirely new animal, focused on customers and digitally enabled by continuing technological transformation.

In the new age of disruption …

1. Insurance is data

“Soon each one of us will be generating millions of data sets every day – insurance can be the biggest beneficiary of that” – Vishal Gondal, GOQUii

While Amazon disrupted the way we shop, and Netflix disrupted the way we watch movies, at the end of the day (as Andy G. Simpson pointed out in his Insurance Journal recap of the conference) movies are still movies, and the dish soap, vinyl records and dog food we buy maintain their inherent properties, whether we buy them on Amazon or elsewhere. Insurance, not simply as an industry but as a product, on the other hand is being fundamentally altered by big data.

At its core, “insurance is about using statistics to price risk, which is why data, properly collected and used, can transform the core of the product,” said Daniel Schreiber, CEO of Lemonade, during his plenary session on day 2 of the conference. As copious amounts of data about each and every one of us become ever more available, insurance at the product level– at the dish soap/dog food level–is changing.

While the auto insurance industry has been ahead of the curve in its use of IoT-generated data to underwrite auto policies, some of the most exciting change happening today is in life insurance, as life products are being reconceived by a boon of health data generated by FitBits, genetic testing data, epigenetics, health gamification and other fitness apps. In a panel discussion titled “On the Bleeding Edge: At the Intersection of Life & Health,” JJ Carroll of Swiss RE discussed the imperative of figuring out how to integrate new data sources into underwriting and how doing so will lead to a paradigm shift in how life insurance is bought and sold. “Right now, we underwrite at a single point in time and treat everyone equally going forward,” she explained. With new data sources influencing underwriting, life insurance has the potential to become a dynamic product that uses health and behavior data to adjust premiums over time, personalize products and service offerings and expand coverage to traditionally riskier populations.

Vishal Gandal of GOQuii, a “personalized wellness engine” that is partnering with Max Bupa Insurance and Swiss Re to offer health coaching and health-management tools to customers, believes that integrating data like that generated by GOQuii will “open up new risk pools and provide products to people who couldn’t be covered before.” While some express concern that access to more data, especially epigenetic and genetic data, may exclude people from coverage, Carroll remains confident that it is not insurers who will benefit the most from data sharing, but customers themselves.

See also: Is Insurance Really Ripe for Disruption?  

2. Insurance is in the background

“In the future, insurance will buy itself automatically” – Jay Bergman

Some of the most standout sessions of this year’s InsureTech Connect were not from insurance companies at all, but from businesses either partnering with insurance companies or using insurance-related data to educate their customers about or sell insurance to their customers as a means of delivering more value.

Before unveiling a new car insurance portal that allows customers to monitor their car-related records and access a quote with little to no data entry, Credit Karma CEO Ken Lin began his talk with a conversation around how Credit Karma is “more than just free credit scores,” elucidating all of the additional services they have layered on top of their core product to deliver more value to their customers. Beyond simply announcing a product launch, Lin’s talk was gospel to insurance carriers, demonstrating how a company with a fairly basic core offering (free credit scores) can build a service layer on top to deepen engagement with customers. It’s a concept that touches on what was surely one of the most profound themes of the conference–that, like free credit scores, insurance only need be a small piece of a company’s larger offering. This may mean embedding insurance into the purchase of other products or services (i.e., how travel insurance is often sold) or it may mean doing what Credit Karma has done and layering on a service offering to deepen engagement with customers and make products stickier.

Assaf Wand, CEO of the home insurance company Hippo, spoke to both of these models in his discussion with David Weschler of Comcast about how their two companies are partnering to make insurance smarter and smart homes safer. When asked about what the future of insurance looks like, Wand put it plainly when he said: “Home insurance won’t be sold as insurance. It will be an embedded feature of the smart home.” Jillian Slyfield, who heads the digital economy practice at Aon, a company that is already partnering with companies like Uber and Clutch to insure the next generation of drivers, agrees: “We are embedding insurance into these products today.”

Until this vision is fully realized, companies like Hippo are doing their part to make their insurance products fade into the background as the companies offer additional services for homeowners, “Can I bring you value that you really care about?” Wand asked, “Wintering your home, raking leaves, these are the kinds of things that matter to homeowners.”

3. Insurance is first and foremost a customer experience

“The insurance industry has to redefine our processes… go in reverse, starting with the customer and re-streamlining our processes around them” – Koichi Nagasaki, Sompo

To many outside the insurance industry, the idea of good customer experience may seem unremarkable, but for an industry that has for so long been enamored by the ever-increasing complexity of its own products, redefining processes around customers is like learning a foreign language as a middle-aged adult. It’s hard, and it takes a long time, and a lot of people aren’t up to the task.

The insurance industry has been talking about the need for customer-centricity for a while now, but many companies continue to drag their feet. But customer-centricity is and remains more than a differentiator. It’s now table stakes. How this plays out for the industry will look different for different companies. Some will turn to partnerships with insurtechs and other startups to embed their products into what are already customer-centric experiences and companies. Chavez of Oliver Wyman would rather see the industry “disrupt itself,” as he believes it’s critical that companies maintain the customer relationship. In his plenary sessions, he cited the German energy company Enercity as a company that disrupted itself. Operating in a similarly regulated industry, rather than becoming just a supplier of energy, the company invested heavily in its own digital strategy to become a thought leader in the energy space, to be a trusted adviser to its customer and to deliver an exceptional digital experience that, among other things, leverages blockchain technology to accept bitcoin payments from customers. For Chavez, insurtech is already a bubble, and, “If you want to succeed and thrive in a bubble, make yourself indispensable.” The only way to do this, he believes, is to maintain ownership over the customer experience, because, in today’s digital economy, the customer experience is the product.

But to own the customer experience and succeed will require insurance companies to completely reorient their business practices and processes – to start with the customer and the experience and work backward toward capabilities. In the words of Han Wang of Paladin Cyber, who spoke on a panel about moving from selling products to selling services, “It’s always a questions of what does the customer want? How do they define the problem? And what is the solution?”

4. Insurance is trust

“The world runs on trust. When we live in a society where we have lots of trust, everyone benefits. When this trust goes away, everyone loses.” – Dan Ariely, Lemonade

During a faceoff between incumbents and insurtechs during one conference session, Dylan Bourguignon, CEO of so-sure cinched the debate with a single comment, calling out large insurance carriers: “You want to engage with customers, yet you don’t have their trust. And it’s not like you haven’t had time to earn it.” This, Bourguignon believes, is ultimately why insurtechs will beat the incumbents.

Indeed, the insurtech Lemonade spent a fair amount of stage time preaching the gospel of trust. Dan Ariely, behavioral economist and chief behavior officer at Lemonade, delivered a plenary session entirely devoted to the topic of trust. He spoke about trust from a behavioral standpoint, explaining how trust creates equilibrium in society and how, when trust is violated, the equilibrium is thrown off. Case in point: insurance.

Insurance, he explained, has violated consumer trust and has thrown off the equilibrium–the industry doesn’t trust consumers, and consumers don’t trust the industry, a vulnerability that has left the insurance industry open to the kind of disruption a company like Lemonade poses. As an industry, insurance has incentives not to do the thing it has promised to do, which is to pay out your claims. And while trust is scarcely more important in any industry as it is in insurance, save in an industry like healthcare, the insurance industry is notoriously plagued by two-way distrust.

What makes Lemonade stand out is that it has devised a system that removes the conflict of interest germane to most insurance companies – as a company, it has no incentives to not pay out customer claims. In theory, profits are entirely derived by taking a percentage of the premium; anything left over that does not go to pay out a claim is then donated to charity. The result: If customers are cheating, they aren’t cheating a company, they are cheating a charity. Ariely described several instances where customer even tried to return their claims payments after finding misplaced items they thought had been stolen. “How often does this happen in your companies?” he asked the audience. Silence.

And it’s not just new business models that will remedy the trust issues plaguing insurance. It’s new technology, too. In a panel titled “Blockchain: Building Trust in Insurance,” executives from IBM, Salesforce, Marsh and AAIS discussed how blockchain technology has the capacity to deepen trust across the industry, among customers, carriers, solutions providers and underwriters by providing what Jeff To of Salesforce calls an “immutable source of truth that is trusted among all parties.” Being able to easily access and trust data will have a trickle down effect that will affect everyone, including customers, employees and the larger business as a whole–reducing inefficiencies, increasing application and quote-to-bind speed, eliminating all the hours and money that go into data reconciliation and ultimately making it easier for carriers to deliver a quality customer experience to their customers.

See also: Disruption of Rate-Modeling Process  

While the progress in blockchain has been incremental, the conference panel demoed some promising use cases in which blockchain is already delivering results for customers, one example being acquiring proof of insurance for small businesses or contractors through Marsh’s platform. With blockchain, a process that used to span several days has been reduced to less than a minute. Experiences like these–simple, seamless and instantaneous – are laying the groundwork for carriers to begin the long road to earning back customer trust. Blockchain will likely play an integral role this process.

5. Insurance is a social good

“We need insurance. It is one of the most important products for financial security.” – Dan Ariely, Lemonade

For all of the the naysaying regarding state of the industry that took place at InsureTech Connect, there were plenty of opportunities for the industry to remind itself that it’s not all bad, and its core insurance is something that is incredibly important to the stability of people across the globe. Lemonade’s Schreiber called it a social good, while Ariely told his audience, “We need insurance. It is one of the most important products for financial security.” Similar sentiments were expressed across stages throughout the conference.

In fact, in today’s society, income disparity is at one of the highest points in recent history, stagnating wages are plaguing and diminishing the middle class, more people in the U.S. are living in poverty now than at any point since the Great Depression, the social safety net is shrinking by the minute and more than 40% of Americans don’t have enough money in savings to cover a $400 emergency, so insurance is more important than ever.

For Inga Beale, CEO of Lloyds of London, insurance has a critical role to play in society, “It goes beyond insurance–it’s about giving people money and financial independence,” she said during a fireside chat. She went on to describe findings from recent research conducted by Lloyds, which determined that, by the end of their lives, men in the U.K. are six times better off financially than women. When designed as a tool to provide financial independence and equality for everyone, insurance can play an important role in addressing this disparity. While this has been a focus in emerging markets, financial stability and independence is often assumed in more developed markets, like the U.S. and Europe. In reality, it is a problem facing all markets, and increasingly so. Ace Callwood, CEO of Painless1099, a bank account for freelancers that helps them save money for taxes, agrees that insurance has an important role to play. “It’s our job to get people to a place where they can afford to buy the products we are trying to sell,” he said.

You can find the article originally published here.

Wellness Works? Prove It–and Win $$$

The reward for showing your wellness program works is now $3 million!

As almost everyone in the wellness industry knows, we have offered a $2 million reward to anyone who can show that conventional annual “pry, poke and prod” wellness saves money. I’m feeling very generous today, so let’s make the reward $3 million.

Even more importantly, let’s loosen the rules — a lot —  to encourage applicants. You’ll find the $3 million reward is not just more generous but also far easier to claim than the previous $2 million reward.

Loosening the Rules

Except as indicated below, the rules stay the same as in the previous posting, but with the following relaxed standards. Most importantly, I’ll now accept the burden of persuasion. It is my job to convince the panel of judges, using the standard civil level of proof, that you are wrong, as opposed to you having to convince them that I am wrong.

Next, let’s expand the pool from which the judges can be drawn. It wasn’t very nice of me to allow you to choose from only the 300 people on Peter Grant’s exclusive healthcare policy listserve, because obviously no one invited into a legitimate healthcare policy listserve thinks wellness saves money.

See also: Should Wellness Carry a Warning Label?  

In addition, you can also choose among the 100-plus people on Dave Chase’s email list and the 70 people on the Ethical Wellness email list. (www.ethicalwellness.org)  To make things totally objective, we will add as judges whatever two bloggers happen to be the leading dedicated lay U.S. healthcare economic policy bloggers at the time of the application for the award, as measured by the ratio of Twitter followers-to-Twitter-following, with a minimum of 15,000 followers.

So judges are chosen as follows: two bloggers chosen by objective formula, plus we each choose six people from among the other 460, with the other party having veto rights for five of them. That gives a total of four judges, who will choose a fifth from among those roughly 500 people.

The original rules included the requirement of defending Wellsteps’ Koop Award.  After all, the best vendor should be exemplary, right? A beacon for others to follow? A benchmark to show what’s possible when the best and brightest make employees happy and healthy?

However, now you have another option. You could instead just publicly acknowledge that the Koop Award committee is either corrupt or incompetent, as you prefer, because that possibility cannot be ruled out as a logical explanation for Wellsteps winning that award. Your choice….

Next, you may bring as many experts with you to address the adjudication forum as you wish to bring. I, on the other hand, will be limited to myself.

Further, you no longer have to defend the proposition that wellness as a whole has saved money. You can, if you prefer, simply acknowledge that most of it has failed…except you. Meaning that, if you are a vendor that has been “profiled” on this site in the last two years, you can limit your defense to your own specific results. You don’t have to defend the swamp.

That new loophole allows companies like Interactive Health, Fitbit, Wellness Corporate Solutions, etc. — and especially Wellsteps — to get rich…if what I have said specifically about them is wrong. I have $3 million that says it isn’t.

Special Offer for HERO

Ah, yes, the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO). The belly of the beast.

Let me make them a special offer. Paul Terry, the current HERO Prevaricator-in-Chief, has accused me of the following  (if you link, you’ll see they had enough sense not to use my name, likely on advice of counsel, given that I already almost sued them after they circulated their poison pen letter to the media):

I’m convinced responding to bloggers who show disdain for our field is an utter waste of time. I’ve rarely been persuaded to respond to bloggers [Editors note, in HERO-speak, “rarely” means “never” — except for that intercepted Zimmerman Telegram-like missive], and each time I did it affirmed my worry that, more than a waste, it’s counter-productive. That’s because they’ll not only incessantly recycle their original misstatements, but worse, they’ll misrepresent your response and use it as fodder for more disinformation.*

Tell ya what, Paul. let’s debate disinformation, including your letter. Aside from the standard 10% entry fee (used to pay the judges honoraria, reserve the venue and compensate me for wasting my time with your THC-infused quixotry), all the economic burden falls on me.

The only catch: I have asked you on multiple occasions to clue me in as to what my alleged disinformation actually is, if any. That way, I can publicly apologize and fix it, should I choose to do so.  Before applying for this award, you need to disclose this alleged disinformation. You can’t just go around saying my information is made up, etc. without specifying what it is.

By definition, “disinformation” is deliberate misrepresentation. To my knowledge, as a member of the “integrity segment” of the wellness industry, I have never, and would never, spread disinformation.

On the other hand, if I did spread inadvertently incorrect information by mistake, it seems only fair to let me fix it — especially given that I have been totally transparent and generous with my time in explaining to you what yours is, and how to correct it. (I might have missed some. Keeping up with yours is a challenge of Whack-a-Mole-meets-White-House-press-correspondent proportions.)

See also: Wellness Vendors Keep Dreaming  

So perhaps it is time to man up, Mr. Terry.  You and your cronies claim to have been collecting my “disinformation” for years, without disclosing any of it. I’m offering you a public forum and $3 million to present it.

Otherwise, perhaps you should, in the immortal word(s) of the great philosopher Moe Howard, shaddap.

A couple other mid-course corrections to the previous award offer.  Someone wondered if this offer is legally binding, so if your attorney’s knowledge of contract law matches your knowledge of wellness economics, they can voice their likely spurious objection. I will publish the objection and address it if need be, to make the reward a binding offer.

Another commenter whined that maybe I just won’t pay the reward. I’m sure that’s the reason no one has applied. (Not.) So, put 10% of the entry fee down, and I’ll attach a lien.

2017 Deplorables Awards — Runners Up

It’s time for the 2017 Deplorables Awards, lovingly bestowed on those vendors who do the best job making other vendors look good. 

The good news is that you don’t have to actually win the Deplorables Award to sue me.  Runners-up are eligible, too. Here is my address for hand-service delivery most of the year:

890 Winter Street #208, Waltham MA 02451

In case you decide to sue me between June 22 and Aug. 8, use:

8 Paddock Circle, Chilmark, MA 02535

And don’t leave out my attorney:

Josh Gardner, GARDNER & ROSENBERG P.C.33 Mount Vernon St., Boston, MA 02108

I don’t know how much more I can do for you, other than lick the envelope. So go for it. Don’t make me beg.

But, remember, unlike with your usual business model, in court you are required to actually tell the truth (I would be happy to explain to you how that works), meaning there is no chance of your winning — or likely even avoiding summary judgment, because none of the evidence is in dispute. It’s all your own writings. Oh, and I do my own cross, which means you won’t be able to find an expert witness. Anyone who knows enough about wellness to be an expert witness also knows enough about wellness to know that attempting to defend you would be a humiliating, on-the-record experience.

And there is always the chance that some annoying jerk might blog about it…

The 2017 Runners-Up

Springbuk and Fitbit

As many of you recall, earlier in the year we analyzed the study done by Springbuk that was secretly financed by Fitbit. Or maybe I need new glasses, because I just couldn’t find the disclosure in the Springbuk report that this paean to Fitbit was financed by Fitbit, much as Nero used to have the judges award him Olympic medals.

Coincidentally, the study showed Fitbit saving gobs of money because employees taking more than 100 steps a day spend less money than those taking fewer. However, a simple tally of one’s own footsteps shows that it is impossible not to take 100 steps a day unless you are both:

  1. in a hospital bed; and also
  2. on dialysis.

This 100 steps-a-day threshold was repeated many times in the study, with no explanation of how that number came to be. However, it turns out we owe these two outfits an apology. Fitbit and Springbuk have told a number of people privately (not publicly, to avoid an embarrassing news cycle) that they didn’t really mean to say that 100 steps a day constituted activity. They meant to say that taking 100 steps a day implied you had your Fitbit on. My apologies for failing to read their minds that their conclusions were based on reading people’s minds to determine whether they wore the Fitbit deliberately, or simply forgot/remembered/cared to put their Fitbit on.

Springbuk and Fitbit never did explain — privately or publicly or to anyone — how employees who took an average number of steps during the baseline year could show huge savings by taking an average number of steps in the study year, too.

They also never explained how these two statements didn’t completely contradict each other, even though I specifically asked them to in a personal letter, excerpted here:

Third, can you reconcile this statement…:

“The materials in this document represent the opinion of the authors and not representative of the views of Springbuk, Inc. Springbuk does not certify the information, nor does it guarantee the accuracy and completeness of such information.”

…with this statement:

“This demonstration of impact achieved by integrating Fitbit technology into an employee wellness program reinforces our belief in the power of health data and measurement in demonstrating ROI,” said Rod Reasen, co-founder and CEO of Springbuk. 

National Business Group on Health

Next up is the National Business Group on Health. Last year, they made the list for criticizing the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for not demanding enough screenings, in a country that is drowning in them. Not content to rest on those laurels, this year they earned an Honorable Mention for inviting Dr. Oz to keynote on the role of quackery in corporate wellness, and perhaps tell us about his latest lose-weight-by-eating-chocolate miracle diet.

See also: How Advisers Can Save Healthcare  

Health Enhancement Research Organization

HERO, of course, also earns a runner-up award. 2017 will be remembered as the year they finally came to grips with the realization that a business model based on fabricating outcomes requires that perpetrators possess that critical third IQ digit. Without that extra “1”, an organization trafficking in math that can at best be considered fuzzy is going to be outed.

This year’s set of lies?  By way of background, their 2016 poison-pen letter insisted they had fabricated that data set showing that wellness loses money without disclosing that it was fabricated — and also never reviewed their fabricated data before publication. Early in the year, I had the insight that, wow, this “fabricated” chapter in their guidebook is so much better than the other chapters that something is amiss. No one at HERO can analyze data competently…and yet, here it was, a competent data analysis.

I did something I had never thought to do before, which was look up the actual author of that chapter. It was Iver Juster, MD. He was a great analyst even before he read all my books, took all my courses and achieved all my certifications in Critical Outcomes Report Analysis.

So I called Iver. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Whereas Paul Terry and Ron Goetzel had insisted that Iver fabricated the data, Iver said that, of course he didn’t — whatever made me think that?  (“If it wasn’t real, I would have disclosed that,” he observed. Of course, he would have. Iver has tremendous integrity.)
  2. The board discussed and reviewed his chapter at length and made helpful suggestions, for which he was quite grateful. This review process required “countless hours,” just as the HERO document says:

The number of  transparent lies HERO tells could make a president blush. In the immortal words of the great philosopher LL Cool J, they lied about the lies they lied about.

Even though 2017 was an off-year for them in terms of the number of lies, they still told enough to be named a runner-up.

Wellness Corporate Solutions

Next is Wellness Corporate Solutions, famous for its crash-dieting contests. WCS now offers a water-drinking contest. The idea is to set up a “challenge” for your team to drink more water than other teams. They call this a “healthy competition.” I guess they didn’t get the memo that forcing yourself to drink when you don’t want to drink, just to make more money, is anything but healthy. Here is a novel idea: Drink when you are thirsty.  Evolution 1, WCS 0.

Perhaps as an encore, WCS, Dr. Oz and the National Business Group on Health could team up to offer a chocolate-eating contest.

I looked into this outfit to see where they get their ideas. The CEO previously ran something called the Washington Document Service. That qualifies her to run a wellness company. As Star Wellness says, to run a wellness company successfully, your background needs to be in sales, or “municipality administration.” After all, what is more central to administering a municipality than documents?

Wellsteps

What fun would a list of runners-up be without Wellsteps, the  proud recipient of the 2016 Deplorables Award? While their streams of consciousness weren’t as memorable in 2017 as in 2016 (“It’s fun to get fat. It’s fun to be lazy“), they get credit for trying. Their 2017 weight-loss campaign was headlined: “This campaign is not really about weight loss, it is about helping you apply the behavioral secrets of those who have lost weight.”

So if your kids ever want you to teach them how to ride a bike, say: “It’s not really about riding a bike. It’s about helping you apply the secrets of people who have ridden bikes.”

And what secrets are we talking about? What person who has lost weight doesn’t brag to everyone or even write a book?  If there is a secret to weight loss, like eating chocolate, Wellsteps owes it to the country to tell them. Don’t make us beg.

See also: Should Wellness Carry a Warning Label?  

Odds and Ends

No Koop Award winner this year, but an honorable mention to past winners and runners up for their commitment to wellness:

Sounds like in 2018 the logical winners would be Philip Morris, or maybe the Asbestos Corporation of America.

Veering briefly into the public sector, kudos to Rep. Virginia Foxx, (R-NC5) for introducing the Required Employee DNA Disclosure Act. Even HERO thought it was a dumb idea…and their threshold for thinking something that increases wellness industry revenue is a dumb idea is quite high, having all rallied behind the Johnson & Johnson fat tax, in which companies would be required to disclose the weight of their employees.

Next up…the winner of the 2017 Deplorables Award

Wellness Vendors Keep Dreaming

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Six impossible things before breakfast?  The wellness industry would just be getting warmed up by believing six impossible things before breakfast. Wellness vendors believe enough impossible things all day long to support an entire restaurant chain:

Consider the article in the current issue of BenefitsPro — forwarded to me by many members of the Welligentsia — titled: “Can the Wellness Industry Live Up to Its Promises?”  BenefitsPro interviewed US Corporate Wellness, Fitbit, Staywell and HERO. Each is a perennial candidate for the Deplorables Awards — except US Corporate Wellness, which already secured its place in the Deplorables Hall of Fame (see, Why Nobody Believes the Numbers) several years ago with these three paeans to the gods of impossibility.

In case you can’t read the key statistic — the first bullet point — it says: “Wellness program participants are 230% less likely to utilize EIB (extended illness benefit) than non-participants.” Here is some news for the Einsteins at US Corporate Wellness: You can’t be 230% less likely to do anything than anybody. For instance, even you, despite your best efforts in these three examples, can’t be 230% less likely to have a triple-digit IQ than the rest of us. Here’s a rule of math for you: a number can only be reduced by 100%. Rules of math tend to be strictly enforced, even in wellness. So the good news is, even in the worst-case scenario, you’re only 100% less likely to have a triple-digit IQ than the rest of us.

See also: 6 Pitfalls to Avoid With Core Systems  

And yet, if it were possible to be 230% dumber than the rest of us, you might be. For instance, US Corporate Wellness also brought us this estimate of the massive annual savings that can be obtained just by, Seinfeld-style, doing nothing:

Assume I spent about $3,500/year in healthcare 12 years ago, which is probably accurate. My modifiable risk factors were zero then and are still zero — no increase. So my healthcare spending should have fallen by $350/year for 12 years, or $4,200 since then. But that would be impossible, because I could only reduce my spending by $3,500. Do you see how that works now?

To his credit, US Corporate Wellness’s CEO, Brad Cooper, is quoted in this article as saying: “Unfortunately some in the industry have exaggerated the savings numbers.” You think?

I’m pretty sure this next one is impossible, too. I say “pretty sure” because I’ve never been able to quite decipher it, English being right up there with math as two subjects that apparently frustrated many a wellness vendor’s fifth grade teacher:

400% of what? Is US Corporate Wellness saying that, as compared with employees with a chronic disease like hypertension, employees who take their blood pressure pills are 400% more productive? Meaning that, if they controlled their blood pressure, waiters could serve 400% more tables, doctors could see 400% more patients, pilots could fly planes 400% faster? Teachers could teach 400% more kids? Customer service recordings could tell us our calls are 400% more important to them?

Or maybe wellness vendors could make 400% more impossible claims. That would explain this BenefitsPro article.

Fitbit

We have been completely unable to get Fitbit to speak, but BenefitsPro couldn’t get the company to shut up. Here is Fitbit’s Amy McDonough: “Measurement of a wellness program is an important part of the planning process.” Indeed it is! It’s vitally important to plan on how to fabricate impossible outcomes to measure, when in reality your product may even lead to weight gain. Here is one thing we know is impossible: You can’t achieve a 58% reduction in healthcare expenses through behavior change — especially if (as in the 133 patients the company tracked in one study) behavior didn’t actually change.

You can read about that gem, and others, in our recent Fitbit series here:

Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) and Staywell

I’ll consider these two outfits together because people seem to bounce back and forth between them. Jessica Grossmeier is one such person. Jessica became the Neil Armstrong of impossible wellness outcomes way back in 2013. While at Staywell, she and her co-conspirators told British Petroleum they had saved about $17,000 per risk factor reduced. So, yes, according to Staywell, anyone who temporarily lost a little weight saved BP $17,000 — enough to clean up about 1,000 gallons of oil spilled from Deepwater Horizon.

See British Petroleum’s Wellness Program Is Spewing Invalidity for the details.

Leave aside both the obvious impossibility of this claim, and also the mathematical impossibility of this claim given that employers only actually spend about $6,000/person on healthcare. Jessica’s breakthrough was to also ignore the fact that this $17,000/risk factor savings figure exceeds by 100 times what her very own article claims in savings. Not by 100%. By 100 times.

Fast-forward to her new role at HERO. In this article, she says:

The conversation has thus shifted from a focus on ROI alone to a broader value proposition that includes both the tangible and intangible benefits of improved worker health and well-being.

Her memory may have failed her here, too, because HERO — in addition to admitting that wellness loses money (which explains its “shift” from the “focus on ROI alone”) — also listed the “broader value proposition” elements of their pry-poke-and-prod wellness programs. The problem is the elements of the broader value proposition of screening the stuffing out of employees aren’t “benefits.” They’re costs, and lots of them:

When she says: “The conversation has shifted from a focus on ROI alone,” she means: “We all got caught making up ROIs, so we need to make up a new metric.” RAND’s Soeren Mattke predicted this new spin three years ago, observing that every time the wellness industry makes claims and they get debunked, the industry simply makes a new set of claims, and then they get debunked, and then the whole process repeats with new claims, whack-a-mole fashion, ad infinitum. Here is his specific quote:

“The industry went in with promises of 3 to 1 and 6 to 1 based on health care savings alone – then research came out that said that’s not true. Then they said: “OK, we are cost neutral.” Now, research says maybe not even cost neutral. So now they say: “But it’s really about productivity, which we can’t really measure, but it’s an enormous return.”

Interactive Health

While other vendors, such as Wellsteps, harm plenty of employees, Interactive Health holds the distinction of being the only wellness vendor to actually harm me. I went to a screening of theirs. To increase my productivity, they stretched out my calves. Indeed, I could feel my productivity soaring — until one of them went into spasm. I doubt anyone has missed this story, but in case anyone has

Interactive Health also holds the distinction of being the first vendor (actually their consultant) to try to bribe me to stop pointing out how impossible their outcomes were. They were upset because I profiled them n the Wall Street Journal. The article is behind a paywall, so you probably can’t see it. Here’s the spoiler: The company allegedly saved a whopping $53,000 for every risk factor reduced. In your face, Staywell!

See also: What Is the Major Barrier to Change?  

Here is the BenefitsPro article’s quote from Interactive Health’s Jared Smith:

“There are many wellness vendors out there that claim to show ROI,” he says. “However, many of their models and methodologies are complex, based upon assumptions that do not provide sufficient quantitative evidence to substantiate their claims.”

You think?

Finally, here is a news flash for Interactive Health: Sitting is not the new smoking.  If anything is the “new smoking,” it’s opioid addiction, which has reached epidemic proportions in the workforce while being totally, utterly, completely, negligently, mind-blowingly, Sergeant Shultz-ily ignored by Interactive Health and the rest of the wellness industry.

There is nothing funny about opioid addiction and the wellness industry’s failure to address it, a topic for a future blog post. The only impossibility is that it is impossible to believe that an entire industry charged with what Jessica Grossmeier calls “worker health and well-being” could have allowed this to happen. Alas, happen it did.

And, as I write this post, breakfast hasn’t even been served yet.