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Trump's Wellness Programs Won't Make You Feel Better

Reducing insurance premiums for employees who engage in "healthy" behaviors benefits few people in practice. The Trump administration is letting states do it anyway.

by Harron Walker
Oct 7 2019, 7:53pm

Photo by The Gender Spectrum Collection

Workplace wellness programs are, at best, a letdown—what good is a 10 percent discount off an Equinox membership when that already costs hundreds of dollars a month??—and at worst, discriminatory. But that’s not going to stop the government from pretending they’re effective!

In case you missed it, the Trump administration has announced its plan to let a bunch of states incorporate wellness programs into the insurance plans they offer on the individual market, as The Wall Street Journal reported last week.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services claims it is doing this in order to help people get healthier and save the states some money.

“Allowing states to implement these wellness programs in their individual markets offers the opportunity to not only improve the health of their residents but also to help reduce health-care spending,” said CMS administrator Seema Verma, per WSJ.

But according to critics, workplace wellness programs—like reducing premiums for workers who take smoking cessation courses or go to the gym regularly—accomplish neither of those goals Verma stated.

Multiple studies in recent years have found that workers who participate in these programs do not show any “significant differences” in their overall health—to say nothing of the fact that a person’s health cannot always be quantified by data and metrics, as labor organizer Lena Solow recently argued in The New Republic.

What’s more, such measures aren’t even proven to lower health care costs for employers. A new study published this year by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that wellness programs implemented among the approximately 33,000 employees at BJ’s Wholesale Club did not lead to the reduction in health care costs that the company had hoped for. If these programs don’t save employers money, it’s unlikely they would magically do so for state governments.

“The verdict is clear,” Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote last week. “[Wellness programs] don’t work.”

So, it looks like we’ll be getting a money-saving wellness program that won’t save our government any money or make us well. Why are we trying to do this again?

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