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wellness digest—week of july 5

July 12, 2011

in wellness digest

a roundup of last week’s news that caught my interest.

1. consumer driven health care will only shift costs if implemented poorly

this is a terrific article on the very real problems inherent in implementing and communicating a high-deductible health plan. the author, a doctor, recommends additional steps employers must take to ensure employees become consumers, not just cost-bearers.

“Workers don’t save adequately for retirement even when in their best interest. It’s very likely that workers won’t save money adequately to fund future health expenses. After all, if people can’t fund retirement, something we undoubtedly all look forward to, which one of us is willing to saving for chemotherapy or open heart surgery, which no one wants?”

note: context has developed a suite of tools for employers offering these consumer-driven health plans, including an interactive educational game, an explanatory video, tip sheets and discussion guides. read about the game hereemail for more information.

2. 11 competitors to humana’s wellness platform

humana launched humanavitality last week. mobihealthnews covered its launch and also called out what it saw as five competitors. with a little input from the crowd, that number’s now grown to 11. there’s a mix of direct-to-consumer and employer-provided solutions. how many do you recognize? and what do you think of them?

“Humana’s CSO Paul Kusserow told MobiHealthNews in February that HumanaVitality would include a strong mobile component since that was a key way to drive engagement with consumers, he said. A number of other wellness platforms already feature mobile apps and connected health and fitness devices as core to their offerings—Partners HealthCare spinout Healthrageous may be the most mobilized of the group.

“While there are certainly others, we collected a handful of wellness platforms that look to be the incumbents of the market HumanaVitality just entered.”

3. should companies penalize employees who smoke?

could the no-hire bans for tobacco users be a litmus or rorschach test for the level of trust in your company? this author identifies many strong reasons to pause before penalizing employees who smoke.

“Most of all, employers asking employees to take a urine test to prove they’re not smokers should contemplate what that says about the level of trust they have in the people who work for them. Yes, I realize companies do this all the time with drug tests, but smoking cigarettes is still legal, the last time I checked. Asking people—and believing them—helps companies.”

4. 401(k) law suppresses saving for retirement

this article’s title is a bit misleading. it suggests that the law that allowed employers to automatically enroll employees in the 401(k) savings plan led to people saving less. the problem isn’t with automatic enrollment. the problem’s with the way employers design their automatic enrollment. specifically, where do they set the default position? people generally sit where they start. if employers set the default too low, employees don’t save enough. employees look to their employer for financial advice. it’s not unreasonable to think employees believe the default is a safe saving level.

“The problem: More than two-thirds of companies set contribution rates at 3% of salary or less, unless an employee chooses otherwise. That’s far below the 5% to 10% rates participants typically elect when left to their own devices, the researchers said.”

5. researchers link deaths to social ills

a living wage means more than food on the table and lights on at home. it means better health and a longer life. this new york times article reviews a study that draws a connection between poverty and health outcomes.

“For 2000, the study attributed 176,000 deaths to racial segregation and 133,000 to individual poverty. The numbers are substantial. For example, looking at direct causes of death, 119,000 people in the United States die from accidents each year, and 156,000 from lung cancer.”

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