Forced to wear a fitness tracker for insurance? (US)

For those covered by corporate health policies, the day is not far away where employee health insurance programs will require wearing a fitness tracker and meeting certain metrics, such as walking a million steps or sleep quality. Already some programs have the employee log food, exercise, blood glucose, heart rate and other vital signs to qualify for a discount. The trajectory is much like BYOD–once unheard of, now it is expected to be the norm in 50 percent of US companies by 2017, with a concomitant loss of personal security and privacy. CVS Caremark and other companies have already made the stick, not the carrot, the norm of employee wellness programs [TTA 12 April 2013]. Writer Adrian Kingsley-Hughes asks: “How much access do we want our employers to have to our medical data? How much access to our daily activities do we want our employers and insurers having?” And what about spoofing those Fitbits and Jawbones? His ZDNet article notes the interest that Apple (plus Samsung and Google, despite Sergey’s and Larry’s vapors–Ed.) has in health, then takes it out a few more yards with Wearables and health insurance: A health bar over everyone’s head (and do check out the comments.)

Soapbox: How healthcare disruption can be sidetracked

click to enlargeRon Hammerle’s comment on Disruptive innovation in healthcare hasn’t begun yet: Christensen (TTA 31 Mar), posted on LinkedIn’s Healthcare Innovation by Design group, made the excellent point that a potentially disruptive and decentralizing healthcare service–retail clinics–has been sidetracked, at least in the US, leaving an open question on their reason for being. This Editor thought it was worthy of a Soapbox. Mr. Hammerle knows of what he speaks because his Tampa, Florida-based company, Health Resources Ltd., works with retail and employer-based clinics to connect them via telemedicine/telehealth systems with medical centers.

When Clayton Christensen first anticipated that retail clinics would be disruptive to the established healthcare industry, their business model was potentially disruptive. What has subsequently happened, however, is a prime example of how potentially disruptive movements can be sidetracked.

After acquiring MinuteClinic and laying the foundation for taking retail clinics national, CVS Caremark chose to make deals with hospitals, which could easily afford to rent, open and operate such clinics without making money on the front end or facing real disruption. Retail clinics were a loss leader to hospitals in exchange for large, downstream revenues, and slightly-enhanced market share for the retailer’s pharmacy.

After CVS shocked Walgreens with one-two punches involving MinuteClinic and Caremark acquisitions, Walgreens came back with three counter-punches of its own:

1. They doubled the number of their clinics (to 700) in less than two years, thwarted AMA opposition, leapfrogged ahead of CVS in clinic count and totally changed the retail clinic model by setting up politically-invisible, broader service, make-your-profit-up-front, employer-based clinics. (more…)

CVS Caremark’s employee wellness ‘stick’ revisited–in court (US)

Exactly a year ago, retail drug store/onsite clinic/PBM giant CVS Caremark unveiled its ‘big stick’ approach to employee wellness–if you are in their health plan, you must participate in their ‘voluntary’ health screenings and management program or be charged $50 per month. One employee is now suing about this in Alameda County (Oakland/San Francisco, California area) Court.

According to the Courthouse News Service, the complaint states that “During the ‘Wellness Exam,’ a doctor performs blood work, which, upon information and belief, is utilized by defendants to ‘flag’ employees who are at risk for a variety of medical conditions.” Also from CNS, “In addition to the exam, which Watterson says she had to pay for, CVS made her fill out a survey that asked personal questions such as weight, body fat percentage, whether she drinks or smokes and is sexually active. The survey was “required in lieu of a $600 fine,” according to the lawsuit.” (Editor’s emphasis) If she had the exam in-house–at a CVS MinuteClinic–it also would have cost her $125 out of pocket, so she went to a private physician who charged her the co-pay, $25. She’s seeking compensation for “class certification and damages for failure to pay hourly and overtime wages, failure to indemnify, illegal wage deductions, failure to provide accurate wage statements and unfair competition.” 

All of which was easily predictable that CVS Caremark would be asking these questions, as they are fairly standard in a health workup –but is the ‘cross the line’ part (and what most of the dither may be about) the last item noted?  (more…)

Powerhouse DC lobbying for telehealth, telemedicine

click to enlargeThe Gimlet Eye observes from a houseboat anchored at a remote Pacific island, with coconuts and occasional internet to Editor Donna.

Telehealth and telemedicine have reached a US milestone of sorts: the formation of a Washington, DC-based ‘advocacy’ (a/k/a lobbying) group constituted as a business non-profit. The Alliance for Connected Care is headed by three former Senators (two of whom were ‘amigos’) from both sides of the aisle and backed by a board including the expected (giants Verizon, WellPoint, CVS Caremark, Walgreens)–and the surprising (much smaller remote consult provider Teladoc and HealthSpot, the developer of the HealthSpot Station kiosk–hmmm, must be a fair chunk of their marketing budgets there) flanked by six well known ‘associate members’ including Cardinal Health and Care Innovations (another hmmm). There’s also a hefty ‘advisory board‘ including the American Heart Association and the NAHC (home care). The leadership team members are all members of major Washington law/lobbying firms. Tom Daschle is recognized as one of the most influential former Senators in town via DLA Piper, though himself not a registered lobbyist (OpenSecrets.org). Trent Lott and John Breaux hung out their own shingle and were recently bought by mega-lobbyist Patton Boggs. To put a fine point on it, more high-powered one does not get. The Eye sees that the time is prime for the Big Influence and…

What the Eye sees is Big Financial Stakes: Private insurers are required to cover telehealth in 20 states, as does Medicaid in most. The VA is a major user. But the great big trough of Medicare is new territory; covering 16 percent of the population, the use of telemedicine and telehealth is limited to certain geographic areas. (MedCityNews) This marks the infamous tipping point: the clarion call to ‘build significant and high-level support for Connected Care among leaders in Congress and the Administration’, ‘enable more telehealth to support new models of care’ and ‘establish a non-binding, standardized definition of Connected Care through federal level multi stakeholder-input process’ (whew!) Big companies want in, insurers want reimbursement, and they want it from somewhere as well. Toto, we’re not in the Kansas of Small anymore with ‘connected health’–we are now in the Oz of Big Money and Power Players. Alliance release (Oddly the website looks preliminary despite the big announcement and backing.)

More on this strategy: It’s called ‘soft lobbying’ and it is the latest thing in the Influence Wars. The Alliance for Connected Care is a 501(c)6 non-profit, similar to a business league like the Chamber of Commerce, and this has become a popular tactic. It’s also a less regulated, less transparent way to shape coverage, public opinion and exert influence on legislators. See this well-timed examination from the Washington Post on the corn syrup versus table sugar wars. ‘Soft lobbying’ war between sugar, corn syrup shows new tactics in Washington influence

Employee wellness: Carrot? Stick? Or something else?

The actions of companies like CVS Caremark [TTA Telehealth Soapbox] have aimed a white-hot klieg light onto corporate wellness and the various methodologies companies are using to force a change in employees’ behaviors to positively affect their healthcare spend. Both positive and negative incentives have their pros and cons–positive incentives tied to completion of wellness ‘tasks’ seem not to work long term, penalties can be a blow to morale and verge on full-blown discrimination and lawsuits. Increasingly the price of being in a corporate health plan seems to be acceptance of ‘intrusion for your own good’ and privacy loss. On the other hand, why should health insurance be any different than home or auto, at least in the US?  The Wall Street Journal has written several non-firewalled articles on this issue in recent days: Your Company Wants to Make You Healthy; Carrots and Sticks: Which One Works The Best (infographic)If Workers Are Out of Shape, Should Companies Make Them Pay? (At Work Blog–read over 85 comments)

In terms of effectiveness, the only study this Editor has seen was published this month in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine from wellness/disease manager Healthways’ Center for Health Research, as mentioned in a secondary article by the Integrated Benefits Institute. According to IBI’s summary:

Looking at over 19,000 employees at five employers, the authors find that employees who reduced their total health behavior risks over a 12 month period—for example, by increasing exercise or improving their diet—had a lower likelihood of absence, less presenteeism [working while sick–Ed.], and better job performance.

But some of those 19 factors included work-related risks such as “poor supervisor relationship, not utilizing strengths doing job, and organization unsupportive of well-being” (JOEM)–not health related at all. And the total reduction was a whopping 5 percent.

Magic 8 Ball says: ‘picture cloudy, try again’.

So perhaps the real choice has become this: adhere to employer requirements–or not have any coverage at all. There’s been a 10 point decline in Americans covered by employer-sponsored insurance, from 69.7 percent in 1999/2000 to 59.5 percent in 2010/2011 (SHADAC/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). Much of that is also the US 7.6 percent ‘official’ unemployment rate (U-3)–but the real accelerator here is the 13.8 percent U-6 rate which counts in part-timers and the ‘marginally attached/discouraged’ who are not going to have employer insurance. The Affordable Care Act and its requirements/fees have also discouraged many smaller employers who are simply dropping insurance coverage.

So what is the bottom line? And where there are the opportunities for consumer engagement and self-maintenance linked to telehealth and mobile health which can mitigate cost? Understanding the ill-defined situation companies are in, especially in the US, will help in identifying them.