Wellness programs don’t really work … except for employers

I’m a little slow on this but it seems companies really want to get genetic information on employees:

A little-noticed bill moving through Congress would allow companies to require employees to undergo genetic testing or risk paying a penalty of thousands of dollars, and would let employers see that genetic and other health information.

Employers got virtually everything they wanted for their workplace wellness programs during the Obama administration. The ACA allowed them to charge employees 30 percent, and possibly 50 percent, more for health insurance if they declined to participate in the “voluntary” programs, which typically include cholesterol and other screenings; health questionnaires that ask about personal habits, including plans to get pregnant; and sometimes weight loss and smoking cessation classes. And in rules that Obama’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued last year, a workplace wellness program counts as “voluntary” even if workers have to pay thousands of dollars more in premiums and deductibles if they don’t participate.

That doesn’t sound very good but at least it helps the health of employees:

Rigorous studies by researchers not tied to the $8 billion wellness industry have shown that the programs improve employee health little if at all. An industry group recently concluded that they save so little on medical costs that, on average, the programs lose money. But employers continue to embrace them, partly as a way to shift more health care costs to workers, including by penalizing them financially.

and from here:

The so-called “Safeway Amendment” was added to the ACA. Now, if you fail, or refuse to take part in, your employer’s “voluntary” wellness test, it can increase your premium by 30 percent — or, if you’re a smoker who refuses to quit, by 50 percent.

There is no evidence that this new rule produced a significant drop in America’s health-care costs. And that isn’t terribly surprising — since Burd’s column was composed almost entirely of lies.

“[A] review of Safeway documents and interviews with company officials show that the company did not keep health-care costs flat for four years, the Washington Postreported in January 2010. “Those costs did drop in 2006 — by 12.5 percent. That was when the company overhauled its benefits … the decline did not have anything to do with tying employees’ premiums to test results. That element of Safeway’s benefits plan was not implemented until 2009.”

In other words, Safeway reduced costs for a single year by raising its employees’ deductibles. It didn’t save money by encouraging its workers to lead healthier lives — it saved money by making its workers pay a larger portion of their health-care costs.

Gee, it doesn’t help the employees but does help the employers. What a shock. And it gets better:

The privacy concerns also arise from how workplace wellness programs work. Employers, especially large ones, generally hire outside companies to run them. These companies are largely unregulated, and they are allowed to see genetic test results with employee names.

They sometimes sell the health information they collect from employees. As a result, employees get unexpected pitches for everything from weight-loss programs to running shoes, thanks to countless strangers poring over their health and genetic information.

So, to summarize, Obama and Congress were convinced to put a provision into the ACA that did basically shifted costs from the employer to the employee for little or no health benefits and now the GOP wants to expand that provision. You have to love it.

Let’s cut jobs so we can increase pollution

In a shocking move (or, you know, the opposite of that), the Trump administration has already taken down the page on climate change at whitehouse.gov (I’m taking this from the Vox article, because I’m not going to link to a Trump anything today):

For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.

Sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America. The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans. We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own. We will use the revenues from energy production to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges and public infrastructure. Less expensive energy will be a big boost to American agriculture, as well.

The Trump Administration is also committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.

Well, let’s look at the job report for the energy sector:

The 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER) finds that the Traditional Energy and Energy Efficiency sectors today employ approximately 6.4 million Americans. These sectors increased in 2016 by just under 5 percent, adding over 300,000 net new jobs, roughly 14% of all those created in the country.

Hmm, looks like the energy sector is doing ok already.

Electric Power Generation and Fuels technologies directly employ more than 1.9 million workers. In 2016, 55 percent, or 1.1 million, of these employees worked in traditional coal, oil, and gas, while almost 800,000 workers were employed in low carbon emission generation technologies, including renewables, nuclear, and advanced/low emission natural gas. Just under 374,000 individuals work, in whole or in part, for solar firms, with more than 260,000 of those employees spending the majority of their time on solar. There are an additional 102,000 workers employed at wind firms across the nation. The solar workforce increased by 25% in 2016, while wind employment increased by 32%.

The 2017 USEER also shows that 2.2 million Americans are employed, in whole or in part, in the design, installation, and manufacture of Energy Efficiency products and services, adding 9133,000 jobs in 2016. (Energy Efficiency employment is defined as the production or installation of energy efficiency products certified by the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® program or installed pursuant to the ENERGY STAR® program guidelines or supporting services thereof). Almost 1.4 million Energy Efficiency jobs are in the construction industry. In addition, construction firms involved in the Energy Efficiency sector have experienced an increase in the percentage of their workers who spend at least 50% of their time on Energy Efficiency-related work, rising from 64.8 percent in 2015 to 74.0 percent in 2016. Finally, an improved USEER survey methodology identified almost 290,000 manufacturing jobs, producing Energy Star® certified products and energy efficient building materials in the United States.

Hmm, it looks like clean energy production is doing really well. It seems to be the wave of the future. Of course, this means Trump will concentrate on oil and gas, thus not only increasing the amount of pollution but allowing other countries to jump ahead in the sectors of energy production that are growing by leaps and bounds. Good job.

What cutting costs means

I can see that people on the MBTAs Control Board don’t know how things work:

When the two cleaning companies contracted by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority cut costs this fall, they slashed the hours — and in the process, health insurance — for dozens of their employees, the agency’s general counsel said Monday.

For months, workers have protested the changes before the MBTA’s fiscal and management control board, saying many of their fellow employees have lost health benefits and don’t have enough cleaning supplies to do their job.

John Englander, general counsel for the MBTA and the state Transportation Department released figures confirming that close to 80 workers for the two companies, about 25 percent of the staff, were laid off or lost health insurance when their hours were reduced.

This came out of this:

Shortsleeve told Boston Public Radio Friday that he believes the administration of Charlie Baker’s predecessor, Deval Patrick, overpaid the companies the MBTA contracts with to clean its stations. He thinks the stations can be maintained for $36.5 million, instead of the $53.1 million that has actually been paid out.

“For the last three years, the prior administration, for a variety of reasons, had been overpaying against those contracts as opposed to enforcing them on a performance basis,” Shortsleeve said. “What we’ve done, and what we’ll start on August 31, is simply to enforce those contracts on a performance basis, which means those companies are on the hook.”

Shortsleeve said that the MBTA does not employ janitors directly, and so any resulting layoffs will be the decision of the cleaning companies the agency contracts with and their labor unions–not the MBTA’s.

The reason they added money to the contract the last time was the private companies made big cuts in pay and benefits last time. This means that Brian Shortsleeve agreed to these cuts knowing it would lead to layoffs and cuts in benefits and he didn’t care.

It also comes straight out of the attitude of one Charlie Baker:

“I don’t care if a service is provided publicly or privately. What I care about is performance, productivity,” and that public money is “well spent,” Baker said.

Notice there’s nothing about treating employees well. He doesn’t care.

A conundrum

The conventional wisdom (which is often wrong, but I’m too lazy to look this up) is that Donald Trump did well among people who are worried about stagnant wages, loss of benefits, and the loss of jobs overseas. This is why he did better with union households than the last few Republican candidates.

There is one set of groups whose purpose is to protect workers–unions.

And Donald Trump and the newly ascendant Republican Party are anti-union:

Trump has expressed support for so-called right-to-work legislation, which allows workers to avoid paying union dues. Republican leaders in Congress have consistently sought such a change at the national level.

Among his concerns, he listed a Supreme Court case this year in which public-sector unions scored a victory related to funding organized labor – but only because the court deadlocked 4-4. The appointment of a new conservative judge by Trump to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia could change that.

in September the Obama administration finalized an executive order requiring federal contractors to provide sick leave to workers, as well as rules expanding the types of data employers are required to provide on pay. A separate Labor Department rule expanding which employees are eligible for overtime pay is scheduled to take effect next month.

Those actions drew criticism from business groups, and all could be reversed under a Trump administration.

Steven Bernstein, a partner at law firm Fisher Phillips, which represents employers, said the Trump administration and Congress may also target recent NLRB rulings that allowed workers to picket on private property, expanded the type of worker activity protected by federal labor law and gave graduate students the right to unionize.

“It’s also fair to assume that Trump will be inclined to repeal a host of executive orders supporting unions,” particularly rules that apply to federal contracts, Bernstein said in a statement.

I guess I don’t understand how these people think: they are worried about their jobs, benefits, and pay so they vote for someone who is against the groups that are fighting for workers? Do they think that businesses will just give them higher pay and better benefits out of the goodness of their hearts?

How could anyone have foreseen these things?

Donald Trump put xenophobia at the center of his campaign and was explicitly racist and sexist. If you voted for him, you voted for things like this:

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, reports of racist incidents are emerging from the nation’s schools and universities, including students who chanted ‘‘white power’’ and called black classmates ‘‘cotton pickers.’’

Reporting by The Associated Press and local media outlets has identified more than 20 such encounters beginning on Election Day, many involving people too young to cast a ballot.

Who could have guessed that many of Trump’s supporters were racists and xenophobes? I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn that all of the senior executives on his transition team are white.

This is also in the category of the obvious:

The new inner circle at the transition offices will direct the activities of dozens of corporate consultants, lobbyists, and other specialists who will be responsible for recommending candidates for agency jobs across the breadth of the federal government. Some of those advisers come from industries for which they are now in charge of finding top regulators.

Go back to that list of people on the transition team:

Ms. Mercer, the daughter of hedge-fund executive Robert Mercer

Mr. Mnuchin, the chief executive of the Dune Capital Management fund, is a longtime banker and former Goldman Sachs executive who has since helped arrange billions in financing for studios in Hollywood.

Mr. Scaramucci is the founder of a hedge fund called SkyBridge Capital

Mr. Thiel is a Silicon Valley billionaire and co-founder of PayPal.

Now look at this:

A member of the Trump transition team told Reuters there were more than 100 people now involved in developing “white papers” on what regulations to roll back after Jan. 20. Some environmental measures and a rule requiring retirement advisers to act in their clients’ interests could be among the first on the chopping block, an industry lobbying source said.

People voted for Trump because he was anti-establishment and would go harder against the moneyed groups than Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump is PART of the moneyed establishment, so, of course, he’s going to help the moneyed establishment. People are such idiots.

Only Unions pressure anyone

It’s interesting how things work when people talk about issues where unions weigh in:

Perhaps she was honestly torn. As Michael Jonas pointed out in CommonWealth magazine, the Massachusetts senator is a longtime proponent of school choice. In her 2003 book, “The Two-Income Trap,” she endorsed a system of vouchers to support attendance at any public school.

But in a statement put out on Monday, Warren said that she will be voting no on Question 2. “Many charters schools are producing extraordinary results for our students and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and spread what’s working to other schools,’’ she said. But, after hearing from both sides, “I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.”

Warren can play an important role in this debate. I only hope her decision really is about equal opportunity for all and not about caving in to union pressure.

The writer, Joan Vennochi, says:

When it comes to Question 2, you can put me down as “conflicted.” This campaign pits suburbs against urban communities and unions against business groups that despise organized labor. All supposedly in the name of “the children.”

and yet nowhere does she seem to question anybody who is voting Yes on Question 2 even though its backers will be spending millions to push it. It’s interesting how that works.

Thanks Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Let’s take a look at what the CFPB is doing these days:

Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) fined Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. $100 million for the widespread illegal practice of secretly opening unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts. Spurred by sales targets and compensation incentives, employees boosted sales figures by covertly opening accounts and funding them by transferring funds from consumers’ authorized accounts without their knowledge or consent, often racking up fees or other charges. According to the bank’s own analysis, employees opened more than two million deposit and credit card accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers. Wells Fargo will pay full restitution to all victims and a $100 million fine to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund. The bank will also pay an additional $35 million penalty to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and another $50 million to the City and County of Los Angeles.

What exactly did they do?

According to today’s enforcement action, thousands of Wells Fargo employees illegally enrolled consumers in these products and services without their knowledge or consent in order to obtain financial compensation for meeting sales targets. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act prohibits unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices. Wells Fargo’s violations include:

  • Opening deposit accounts and transferring funds without authorization: According to the bank’s own analysis, employees opened roughly 1.5 million deposit accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers. Employees then transferred funds from consumers’ authorized accounts to temporarily fund the new, unauthorized accounts. This widespread practice gave the employees credit for opening the new accounts, allowing them to earn additional compensation and to meet the bank’s sales goals. Consumers, in turn, were sometimes harmed because the bank charged them for insufficient funds or overdraft fees because the money was not in their original accounts.
  • Applying for credit card accounts without authorization: According to the bank’s own analysis, Wells Fargo employees applied for roughly 565,000 credit card accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers. On those unauthorized credit cards, many consumers incurred annual fees, as well as associated finance or interest charges and other fees.
  • Issuing and activating debit cards without authorization: Wells Fargo employees requested and issued debit cards without consumers’ knowledge or consent, going so far as to create PINs without telling consumers.
  • Creating phony email addresses to enroll consumers in online-banking services: Wells Fargo employees created phony email addresses not belonging to consumers to enroll them in online-banking services without their knowledge or consent.

Yow, they’ve been a bad little bank. And remember, pretty much every single Republican, including one Donald Trump, wants to get rid of the CFPB and reduce oversight on the banks. After all, the banks are so very trustworthy.

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