Make Your Own Way

What’s Wrong with Your Employer Owning Your Health?

The idea of your employer owning your health has been marching forward since the middle of the 20th century when employer-provided health insurance emerged as a response to labor unions and the fear of post-war inflation. By the mid-1960s, getting health insurance from your employer had become a standard benefit of employment that was nearly universal. Now some top tier employers want to put your health on their balance sheets, figuratively, if not literally. What could go wrong?

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, health policy scholar Al Lewis explains:

A working group whose members include Humana, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, PepsiCo, Unilever, and South African insurer Discovery recently proposed that publicly traded corporations provide an overview on the health of their workforces in their various forms of public disclosure.

While I certainly applaud employers that try to provide positive working environments for their employees, my evaluation of this particular proposal is that there are problems with its assessments of its benefits and costs. I also believe that implementation would be difficult

Lewis, who has written prolifically on problems with the wellness industry, details four major problems with this proposal, which he traces back to shortcomings in corporate wellness programs:

  • The benefits are unproven
  • The costs exceed the benefits
  • Employees are reluctant to participate
  • Privacy violations and health discrimination are inevitable

Fantasies about corporate wellness will not die easily. It sounds so good. Don’t you want employers to care about your health? In the New York Times Sunday Review today, you will find the fantasy being promoted. Under a headline about “paying employees to lose weight,” three professors conclude that “companies can improve the health of workers.” You have to actually read the article to find that paying people to lose weight doesn’t work.

Shazam! It turns out that HR is not any better at weight management than doctors are.

Click here to read more from the Harvard Business Review.

Make Your Own Way, photograph © Yasser Alghofily / flickr

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March 6, 2016

2 Responses to “What’s Wrong with Your Employer Owning Your Health?”

  1. March 06, 2016 at 8:50 am, Al Lewis said:

    Thanks for posting! I’d urge people to visit the Harvard site and comment on it, anonymously if you are concerned about your company seeing this…and companies do see it.

    It’s worth the read–what you see above is the tip of the iceberg. This much-ballyhooed proposal will monitor your sleep, drinking habits, the drugs you take, and how depressed you are — and report it to shareholders.

    We can’t make this stuff up. Johnson&Johnson, Merck and others are pushing it to sell more wellness and more pills.

    The funniest part? Two of the companies who want to sell your boss more wellness programs admit they can’t even get their own employees to lose weight.

    • March 06, 2016 at 1:06 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Al. Our friend Morgan Downey asked in a forum years ago, “What makes HR people think they’re better at weight management than healthcare professionals?” He put his finger on the core problem. If companies want to make sure they are doing the right thing, they can fix their health plans that typically exclude evidence-based obesity care from coverage as if it is somehow unimportant to them.