Tag Archives: biometrics

Is Wellness Really Just About ROI?

Al Lewis and Tom Emerick posted a great article on the HBR blog about the Danger of Wellness Programs.  It reminds me a lot of what my old boss published after she left Healthways, but as the old expression goes – don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I’ve talked about this before in my post on why CVS asking for their employees weight was a good thing, but let me elaborate more.  While the HBR article makes some great points about ROI, the reality is that companies don’t just jump into wellness for the ROI.  It’s about creating a better workforce.  What Al Lewis and his partner ignore are other realities like:

In general, only 12% of people are fully health literate.  Most people are unengaged with their healthcare and overwhelmed with work and life.  That’s why programs like biometrics and health risk assessments are important.  They try to create teaching moments for us to pay attention to our health and realize our risks.

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Key Topics At #WHCC13 In DC

I’m at the World Healthcare Congress (WHCC13) in Washington DC this week.  This has always been one of the top 5 events for me to try to come to every year (admitting that there are a few like TED that I haven’t attended due to budget yet).

It’s interesting  how trends start to flow within a conference and how the trends change year to year.  This year, the key themes that I continue to hear are (in no order):

  • Engagement is critical.  Between MD and Patient.  Between social network / influencers and member.  Between employee and employer.
  • We have to get past the barriers to health enablement (i.e., legacy IT systems) and make change happen.
  • Game theory can help improve engagement.
  • Mobile tools are important.
  • Data integration has to happen and employers are doing it themselves.
  • Biometrics are critical path.
  • We can’t solve healthcare if we don’t solve health.  The community.  Our food choices.  Work / life balance.  (I would add sleep and stress.)
  • Rapid innovation.
  • Reform isn’t going to be easy on the employer or the employee.

But, since Twitter is my new note taker…here’s a few sets of tweets for you.

#whcc13 tweets whcc13 tweets3 whcc13 tweets2 whcc13 tweets1

Why CVS Caremark Asking For Your Weight Is Good For You

I continue to annoyed by all the fear-mongering in the industry around what CVS Caremark is “doing to their employees”.  What about focusing on how they are helping their employees to get better?  (If interested, you should read some of the information they have on their blog.)

Our “Plan for Health” combines an evolving, best-practice approach to health coverage with preventive care and wellness programs. Our colleagues will be more accountable for taking control of their health and associated costs. The first step is getting to know your numbers by getting a health screening and completing an online wellness review each year. If colleagues complete both by the May 1, 2013 deadline, they will avoid paying an additional $600 for the 2013-2014 plan year. (from the CVS Caremark blog)

I was hopeful to hear someone come out strongly and speak about it yesterday on CBS, but instead the CEO of Mercer just talked about “soft” programs that depend upon consumers being proactive around their health.  I would rather hear about the value of screenings and how it helps employees.  In talking with one friend of mine at a biometrics company, he told me that in one case almost 40% of the people that they identified with diabetes (or pre-diabetes) and hypertension (or pre-hypertension) didn’t know they had the disease (or were at high risk).  That to me is a valuable insight to the individual especially when coupled with a program to help them learn and manage their disease (or risk).

For example, companies for years have been using Health Risk Assessments (HRAs) to try to baseline employee health and use that to accomplish several things:

  1. Help the employee to understand their risks
  2. Identify people who should be in coaching programs to improve their health
  3. Learn about their population and how to improve their health benefits

Use of biometrics is the right evolution from the HRA.  People have tried HRAs for years with some success.  Companies pay as much as $600 for people to take this online survey that has no necessary link to reality.  Most HRAs aren’t linked to lab values.  Most HRAs aren’t linked to claims data.  Most HRAs don’t necessarily trigger enrollment in health programs.  They are supposed to activate the employee to be proactive which doesn’t work for many sick consumers especially those in the “pre-disease” phase.  (Here’s a good study that does show some increased activation.)

As I mentioned the other day, this use of biometrics and link between incentives and participation (and ultimately outcomes) is normal and will ultimately improve the link between the workplace and the employee around health.

Let’s take a broader look at insurance to help set some context:

  • For life insurance, you have to disclose certain data and depending on the policy level you have to do other things like get a physical and have blood work drawn.  That effects your costs and their underwriting.  
  • For car insurance, if you get in accidents, your costs go up.  In some case, you can have a monitoring device put on your car to lower your costs.  (like getting blood work done)
  • For home owners insurance, your costs go up if you live in a flood zone or a earthquake zone.  It also goes up if you have lots of claims.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we do determine a lot of our healthcare costs based on decisions we’ve made or had made for us since we were kids.  Some of these are conscious and some are subconscious.  And, obesity which is a large driver of many of these chronic conditions and has an impact on your likelihood of having cancer.  So, a company asking for your BMI and other data to help understand your risks for healthcare costs (of which they typically pick up 80%) doesn’t seem unusual.

Certainly, some are environmental such as those that live in “food deserts” like Detroit.  In other cases, workplace stress can affect our health.  We’re just starting to get smarter about “sitting disease” and it’s impact on our health.  Or, we may take medications that affect our blood pressure (for example).  It’s certainly important to understand these in context of your lab values and discuss a holistic strategy for improving your health with your physician and any care management resources which are provided to you (nurse, social worker, nutritionist, pharmacist).

This idea of learning more about employees in terms of biometrics, food, sleep, stress, social interaction, and many other data points is going to be more and more of a focus.  Companies want to learn how their employees do things.  They want to understand their health.  They want to improve their health.  They want to invest in their workforce to improve productivity, innovation, and ultimately job satisfaction.

While the glass half-empty people won’t see this and there are some companies that don’t always act this way, I generally believe that companies are trying to act in a way to increase their top line and most intelligent executives understand the correlation between health and wealth and the link between employee satisfaction and growth.

Ultimately, healthcare costs are estimated to put a $240,000 burden on us after we retire (even with Medicare) so if someone wants to help me become healthier and thereby save me money which improves my ability to retire and enjoy life I’m happy for them to do.

How The CVS Program Will Change The Employer – Employee Contract

Have you heard that CVS Caremark is requiring employees to go get biometrics and going to take action on it? OMG!

I’m not sure I understand why people are all upset. Let’s look at the facts:

And, by the way, have we forgotten how much healthcare costs have gone up over time and who pays that bill. It’s either the employer or the government. Both of those things impact our pay as individuals either in terms of lower raises to cover healthcare costs, shifting healthcare costs to us, or taxes. It’s not sustainable so the person who pays the bill has to step in since we’re not. (Which is also why I support the NY ban on soda.)

Now, let’s look at our healthcare system where in the current fee-for-service model, there isn’t an incentive for physicians to address this.

For now, people should be happy. They’re only being required to do the biometrics. The penalty isn’t linked to whether they’re fat or have high blood pressure or smoke or have high cholesterol or have diabetes. A recent study by Towers Watson shows that while 16% of employers do this type of outcome based incentive program today (2013) that this is going to jump to 47% in 2014. So, this will be the norm.

And, guess what…sticks often work better than carrots in some cases.

And, healthcare costs are making us uncompetitive globally as a country.

  • The cost of healthcare is greater than the cost of steel in a car.
  • The cost of healthcare is greater than the cost of coffee in a Starbuck’s cup of coffee.

And, health reform is allowing (even enabling) this to happen. It says that you can treat people differently and create up to a 50% differential in costs associated with their health. (Not a legal definition so read the fine print.)

But, what I think all of us (consumers and employers) will need to realize is that moving to this (which I agree with) will change the employer and employee relationship in several ways.

  1. You can’t put these programs in place without something to help me manage my obesity, cholesterol, and/or other chronic condition. This will drive wellness and disease management programs to be more engaging and successful.
  2. This will put pressure on employers to create a culture of health since we spend so much time at work and work contributes to our health conditions.
    1. Need more time to be active. Less sitting. Treadmill desks. Standing meetings. Nap time. Walking breaks. Use of devices to track steps. Incentives. Gym discounts. Healthy food discounts.
    2. Need less stress.
    3. Need more sleep.
    4. Better food choices at work.
  3. This will drive a lot of the new tools and run counter to some trends about limiting dependent coverage since you can’t address obesity without engaging the entire family and the social network.
  4. This will also create a whole exception process by which people who gain weight due to certain drugs have to be excluded. People who can’t exercise may have to be excluded. People may have to see short-term goals (i.e., dropping BMI from 35 to 32). Physicians will have to be engaged.
  5. Coaching will have to expand to include dieticians, social workers, and others to help people beyond the historical nurse centric coaching model.

If none of this motivates you, then just think about the “gift” we’re giving our kids and maybe that will be a wake-up call why someone has to do something here. (As I shared the other day, I struggle with my weight so don’t think I’m some super skinny, high metabolism person who thinks this is easy.)


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