Al Lewis — nationally-recognized expert in health and wellness, an avid Obama supporter, proponent of the Affordable Care Act (the official term for Obamacare) — told Newsmax recently that he would support the GOP’s American Health Care Act if one simple paragraph was added to it.
"If an employer wants to do something to their employees that is not clinically recognized as sound, then they need to disclose that to their employees," said Lewis, "They must give their employees an option to earn the same reward and the same incentive by doing something that is clinically sound."
Under the Affordable Care Act, the "Safeway Amendment" allows employers to incentivize their workers to stay healthy by participating in voluntary wellness programs. Many of these programs include biometric screenings that track health-measurements such as the individual’s blood pressure, blood glucose, weight, and blood cholesterol. In exchange for their participation, employees can be given monetary rewards.
But those who refuse to participate in these "voluntary" programs are penalized. In Lewis’s words, "If not doing something costs you $1,000 then it is not voluntary."
According to Lewis, whose book was named the 2012 Healthcare Book of the Year in Forbes, the animosity towards the "Safeway Amendment" has enemies on both sides of the political spectrum.
"The Safeway Amendment is opposed by liberals because it is very anti-employee. Employees are forced to do things," he noted. "People on the conservative side tend to oppose it because it is a ridiculous intrusion of the employer into the doctor-employee relationship."
So who does support the Safeway Amendment?
According to Lewis, "The only people who support it are vendors who make money on it, the consultants who make money on it, and the American Benefits Council."
He added that "the award-winning wellness program last year that was called the best in the country accidentally admitted that they actually harmed the employee."
The wellness program provider, WellSteps, helped the Boise School District win the 2016 Koop Award which deemed it "one of the nation’s best wellness programs." Dr. Steve Aldana, CEO of WellSteps, acknowledged that the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force "has established guidelines that indicate when it is appropriate to get screened, based on age, gender, and the presence of risk factors" and comes to the conclusion that "it is NOT recommended that an entire employee population be screened every year." (Emphasis added).
Yet, the program calls for just that: an annual screening for each employee.
Sharon Begley, senior science writer at STAT, reminds the public that "for many people, especially those with normal readings, blood glucose can safely be tested every three years, cholesterol every five years, and blood pressure every other year."
On top of unnecessary employee screenings, Begley points out that the data from the Wellsteps program reveals that "[m]ore key measures of health deteriorated than improved [and] self-reported quality of health got worse" after the curriculum was implemented in Idaho.
"This is the irony of wellness," Lewis said. "There are things that they could do that are helpful that they are not doing and there are things that they do that are harmful."
If employers are required to disclose that their programs may not be aligned with the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force’s guidelines and are obligated to provide their employees with a clinically-sound alternative, "then wellness becomes a big win" said Lewis, a long-time Democrat. "I would shockingly admit that I would actually support the American Health Care Act [the Republican alternative to Obamacare now being debated in the Senate] if in fact it had this paragraph in it."
Samantha Snellings, who is studying Journalism, Political Science, and Entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a summer intern at the Washington DC bureau of Newsmax.
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