Bioethics Blogs

Workplace Wellness Programs: Continuing The Discussion With Ron Goetzel

We imagine that reading a point-by-point reply to Professor Ron Goetzel’s lengthy rebuttal to our previous reply, which responded to a previous lengthy rebuttal by Professor Goetzel to our original article, would try the patience of even the most dedicated readers of Health Affairs.  Therefore, beyond reminding readers of the original article’s scope, here we use Professor Goetzel’s last response as a touchstone to summarize our difficulties with the arguments by advocates of workplace wellness programs based on financial incentives.  We ask weary readers who do not wish to continue with this exchange, but are interested in workplace wellness, to look at the evidence we provide in our appendices, and make their own judgments.

First, we must remind Professor Goetzel that we wrote our original article to address the assumptions underlying workplace wellness programs based on substantial financial incentives — those encouraged by the Affordable Care Act — and not any of the other types of programs.  That article did not comment on the myriad other public health interventions that might take place at the worksite, although some of our arguments could be applied to those programs as well.  Unfortunately, many of Professor Goetzel’s comments are directed at claims we never made about those other programs, and we find his continued advocacy for those programs in the guise of a response to our work distracting.

Second, Professor Goetzel’s most recent posting helpfully outlines ACA wellness regulations that were released after we published our article.  Like other commentators, he is right to highlight the new, expansive “reasonable alternative standard,” because it may mean that many more employees can access alternatives to the program standards.  Once again, however, he is more optimistic than we and other researchers are that such protections will be easily accessed by employees.  We are skeptical that it will be nothing more than a simple matter for an employee to exempt themselves from the general program.  Among other things, the employee needs to know about the possibility of an alternative and to feel that asking for an alternative will not harm her, and her employer must be willing to comply.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.