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$22.8 Million City ‘Wellness’ Program Has No Proven Benefits, City Watchdog Says

Inspector General Joe Ferguson said the city has taken no steps to show the program works.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson
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CITY HALL — Chicago officials have taken no steps to measure the effectiveness of its employee wellness program, three years after the program was initially criticized by Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, according to a follow-up audit by the city watchdog.

The audit released Monday determined the city has now spent close to $23 million on the Chicago Lives Healthy program, and had yet to set benchmarks for the program’s success.

The Department of Finance told the inspector general’s office it “does not plan to set specific health status or healthcare saving targets for the current CLH program” and it “does not report publicly on CLH outcomes.”

Officials told Ferguson’s office that the department determines effectiveness “through ongoing feedback from our labor partners,” and is part of a broader multi-strategy approach to contain healthcare costs.

In January, Mayor Rahm Emanuel reached an agreement with 31 labor unions representing city employees that he said would reduces the city’s share of healthcare contributions by $12 million annually when all the healthcare reforms are fully implemented in 2021. Changes include increases to be paid for my employees in the forms of higher contributions, officials said.

Ferguson’s June 2015 advisory on the Chicago Lives Healthy program found while the city “spent nearly $10.5 million in taxpayer resources from 2012 through 2014 to improve employee health and reduce healthcare costs through CLH, the City had not formally assessed the program’s impact in either area and had no plans to do so.”

The wellness program, adopted in 2012, offered premium discounts, gym memberships and other incentives to employees as a way to improve overall health and fitness and reduce health insurance costs.