There are certain maxims in the benefits business, such as:

  • Payroll deduction increases enrollment;
  • Emergency rooms are expensive—and bad;
  • Trade shows have open bars (or should);
  • And wellness programs save everyone money.

Well, it looks like we might have to strike that last one. The latest issue of Health Affairs dropped this week with what appears to be the results of one of the most exhaustive studies of workplace wellness programs we have on record. It was even big enough news to make the Associated Press.

Anyway, researchers followed the employees at a St. Louis hospital for two years, and while hospitalizations overall for those covered fell pretty dramatically—a little more than 40 percent over a range of conditions—higher outpatient costs wiped those savings out.

This runs contrary to not only popular belief, but a number of other studies, as well. Wellness programs on the whole, we've always been told, cut utilization, the very heart of what drives premiums. Everyone is jumping on board these plans, which attack things we know for a fact lead to higher health insurance costs, such as smoking, lack of exercise and bad diets.

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