Well, I just took a week off to read the eight page Joint Consensus Statement, Guidance for a Reasonably Designed, Employer-Sponsored Wellness Program Using Outcomes-Based Incentives. It was published in JOEM (Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine), Volume 54, Number 7, July 2012.
Deep breaths. We’ll work through this together.
This paper’s narrow objective is, “…to provide guidance regarding use of outcomes-based incentives as part of a reasonable designed wellness program designed to improve health and lower cost while protecting employees from discrimination and unaffordable coverage.”
See where I am going with this? Do you also find all this mumbo jumbo a bit on the difficult side?
This paper required:
- 61 highly detailed references at the end.
- 6 in-depth footnotes within the text.
- 3 robust tables of information.
- 24 acknowledgements to contributing authors.
- 5 large and respected health/medical non-profits to prepare it.
- Just under 1,000 words dedicated to legal compliance issues alone.
And remember, this paper is just a “Consensus Statement.” It touches on legal and compliance issues related to wellness incentives, without being an authoritative source. And the authors offer the wise advice to “…get a thorough evaluation from legal council… before implementing any incentive design.”
You know what I took away from this paper? Wellness programs that include incentives are undefined liabilities, and thus untenable for most workplaces. A statement the authors might agree to, after drinking in moderation.
Common Sense is so Refreshing
But there is hope. One key sentence in this document stated, “We believe that the fundamental goal of any wellness program should be to provide opportunities for individuals to improve their health and wellness.”
Now, there you go. That’s good! No beating around the bush. Easy-to-understand. And we can show you how you can accomplish exactly that with free resources from both local and national organizations − including the ones that prepared this paper.
This Consensus Statement Raises These 4 Stupid Questions*
*If you believe there is no such thing as a stupid question, you don’t know me well enough yet:
Stupid Q #1: Isn’t an incentive discriminatory by its very nature? This paper suggests that our Government mandates carrots be used instead of sticks. By carrots or sticks we have to classify people in order to prod or poke, respectively. Discrimination need not be evil or wrong in every instance. But it’s what it is – a categorization of people to evaluate separately or to help accomplish an objective affecting the specific group. I don’t get it. How can anyone say any incentive is not discriminatory? Maybe they mean an incentive should not be evil or wrong. Very subjective, don’t you think?
Stupid Q #2: Can the benefits of having wellness incentives really outweigh the compliance risks as outlined in this paper? Why create a nightmare of “non-compliance” on the downside, when the benefits of incentives are questionable at best, on the upside? I think wellness program benefits can be intuitive and obvious and not require incentives − but that’s another story.
Stupid Q #3: Why not just make all wellness program incentives illegal? This paper (and others) suggest some Workplaces would have just a few people show up or sign-up without an incentive. They call that a “lack of engagement.” Well, too bad – that would be how the chips fall. I’d like to see all incentives outlawed instead of nitpicking at what is allowable or not. Why go halfway with micromanagement? In for a dime, in for a dollar. Let’s make this a lot easier on the enforcement authorities. It’s not a lack of incentives most wellness programs suffer from. It’s a lack of creativity.
Stupid Q #4: Aren’t incentives used in wellness programs the fuel behind the business models for the wellness vendors? Take away their incentives, participation dries up, and they get fired. Nobody in their right mind claims incentives are sustainable even when they work in the short term. So what’s all the hub-bub about? Incentives are just not the right, long-term business model for wellness vendors. I’d suggest to any employer, and especially medium size and small employers, not to use incentives in any wellness program. There are creative, simple, inexpensive and fun alternatives.
So, back to the promise of making wellness incentives simple. Don’t use them.
Shawn is the President and Founder of Hope Health. For over 30 years, his work has focused on bringing clear, easy-to-read, and watch health messages to the public via workplaces. He bills himself as the “Best C+ Student in the Wellness Biz” because, as he says, “I like to challenge the notion that there is no such thing as a stupid question.” Shawn is on a mission to tie workplaces into their surrounding communities to share resources and ideas in an effort to improve the health of all Americans.
You may reach Shawn at sconnors@HopeHealth.com or 800-334-4094.