One More Symptom of an Ailing Healthcare System

August 20, 2013

When employers feel the need to play doctor

In response to a provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), The Rand Corporation recently completed a comprehensive analysis of all the available evidence from scientific and trade literature about Workplace Wellness Programs. Their findings are certain to surprise as well as disappoint employers. Contrary to the claims of the $2B/yr Corporate Wellness Industry, Rand found these programs to have minimal benefit on employee health and to have failed outright at cutting employers’ healthcare costs. From outside the Wellness Industry the one question that should come to mind is what compelled employers to take on the role of physician for their employees in the first place? The answer to this, as I am about to show you, brings into question the quality and value of our healthcare system’s services as well as the business savvy of our corporate leadership.

In brief, here is the mounting problem employers have grappled with for the past three decades; health care costs in our nation have risen at five times the rate of inflation and employers foot for 1/3 the tab. To combat this formidable threat to their existence, employers selected Workplace Wellness Programs as their weapon of choice for improving their employees’ health and cutting their healthcare costs. To execute their battle plan, employers took a play right out of their healthcare handbook, outsourcing wellness to third-party vendors; and just as Managed Care did before them, wellness vendors commandeered employers’ good intentions for their own profit, for which I do not blame them any more than I would a scorpion for biting me. That’s what they do. In all fairness, they are in business to make a profit and in contrast to their impact on employee health and healthcare costs, at this Wellness Vendors have been quite successful.

Regardless, the failure of workplace wellness programs is not the fault of wellness vendors. Rather, the lion’s share of the blame falls squarely on the American Healthcare System, including me and my 850,000 physician colleagues. Because we failed to keep their employees healthy and well, employers felt compelled to do it themselves. Employers do have a share in this failure. Instead of demanding their money’s worth from a healthcare system that threatens them with bankruptcy, employers chose to throw good money after bad, involving yet another third-party to do the job; and while wellness vendors were able to make employers feel good about their programs, the evidence clearly shows they failed to deliver the goodsTheir ill-conceived attempt at duplicating in the workplace what we collectively failed to do in the healthcare system, should make The Rand Corporation’s findings none too surprising.

While hindsight is 20/20, Rand’s findings should serve as an eye opener for both employers and physicians making them better prepared, moving forward, to fulfill their respective obligations to the American Workforce. Clearly, now is the time for employers and physicians, unaccompanied by a third-party, to return to the wellness drawing board with a unified mission of getting employers the healthy workforce and the healthy returns on investments they have already made. In the process, we will go a long way towards fixing (adding value to) our ailing healthcare system. Successfully fulfilling the wellness mission hinges on employers and physicians capitalizing on the lessons learned from The Rand Corporation; let employers take care of business while physicians take care of employees. 

End Post

Mitchell R. Weisberg, MD, MP


Internist-Psychopharmacologist-Personal Physician and,

Corporate Wellness Consultant at:

Optimal Performance MD



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