• What are the other comparison groups? In Safeway’s case, Burd calls them “most American companies.” But just which ones—other national food chains, car makers, drug companies, or toothpaste sellers?

• Are there data that show employees are actually using fewer medical services?

• Are there data that show employees have actually changed their bad behaviors if indeed the cost reduction is due to such a change?

And, while the diggers are at it, they should remember that companies touting their anecdotal evidence may have other agendas. Burd says that “we are constrained by current laws from increasing these incentives.” By that, he means the payments a company can give employees who, say, have stopped smoking are too small. “Reform legislation needs to raise the federal legal limits so that incentives can better match the true incremental benefit of not engaging in these unhealthy behaviors,” says Burd. Some emerging bills do contain such incentives. Are these good investments for taxpayers? Such op-eds, which are really another form of lobbying, don’t often answer that question.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.