With the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) scheduled to hold hearings Thursday morning on whether "wellness programs" in the workplace improve employees' health and reduce costs, the list of witnesses was highly conspicuous: not a single "wellness" skeptic was scheduled to testify.
"Just the very name of the hearings — 'Employer Wellness Programs: Better Health Outcomes and Lower Costs' — tells you everything," Boston outcomes-measurement consultant Al Lewis, one of the premier opponents of wellness programs contained in the "Safeway Amendment" of Obamacare, told Newsmax, "That sounds more like an advertisement rather than a serious scrutiny of the programs."
Democrat Lewis, who twice voted for Barack Obama for president and supports Obamacare, has nevertheless written and spoken extensively against the wellness provision contained in the health care measure. Under its "Safeway Amendment" (named after the supermarket chain that has long had requirements encouraging workers to remain healthy), employers are allowed to offer wellness incentives up to 30 percent of the total cost of an employee’s health insurance, and up to 50 percent for incentives related to not smoking.
In op-ed articles in the "Wall Street Journal" and other publications as well as in two-best-selling books, Lewis has charged that positive reports from the "wellness industry" are usually "the result of very dubious evidence" and that such programs are leading to a "culture of deceit" in which employees engage in "binge and crash diets to correspond with weigh-ins to minimize or avoid penalties. Or they could lie on the health risk assessment or attach their pedometers to their dogs."
To collect evidence, Lewis founded the Disease Management Purchasing Consortium and established a training and certification program for "critical outcomes report analysis."
Yet, like other high-profile skeptics of the programs, Lewis was not invited before the panel chaired by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.).
"The first time, in fact, I even knew about the hearings was when a reporter called me on Friday," he added, "And I was a bit amused about not being invited, since my writings probably caused the hearings to be held in the first place."
The lead witness Thursday, Lewis noted, "is Caesar's Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman, a supporter of wellness programs. The Business Roundtable [which is also strongly pro-wellness] must have called in a lot of chits, since the full committee has 22 senators and they are going to be spending an entire morning on this issue."
Lewis emphasized to us that at least three other high-profile wellness skeptics were not invited to testify before the Senate committee: Vic Khanna, Tom Emerick, and Jon Robison.
Asked about the hearings, Western Michigan University Prof. Robison said: "On the one hand, the Business Roundtable genuinely believes wellness is the next thing and we applaud them for encouraging a longer look. On the other hand, the industry’s most popular blog says: 'you’d have to be an ostrich not to realize the wellness industry is being creatively destroyed.'"
"And it’s not as though one has to look hard for opponents of the wellness programs," Lewis told us, "’The Federalist’ [a prominent libertarian publication] and the ‘Los Angeles Times,’ which is historically liberal, are very critical of the programs. When was the last time they agreed on anything?
"So opposition crosses the political spectrum. And you see revolts against the programs, such as those from the employees of Penn State and CVS. And don’t forget that Honeywell employees filed an EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunities Commission] against their company’s alleged forced wellness.
"And yet both CVS and Honeywell’s programs are lauded on the Roundtable website."
Lewis remains a supporter of Obamacare, insisting that more people have health coverage under the program than they did previously "and I’m willing to pay higher taxes for that. The president should never have told people if they like their policy they can keep it. But, look, George W. Bush proclaimed early victory in Iraq. Presidents of both parties say things that turn out not to be true.
"So I still pretty much like everything in Obamacare — except the wellness requirement, that is."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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