There has been much recent debate in the U.S. about the efficacy of wellness incentives, meaning do they really serve to lower or at least control medical costs. A recent study conducted in Germany detailed in MEDCITY revealed that wellness incentives do indeed reduce medical costs. Here are a few key excerpts from the article:
In Germany, public insurers offer members bonuses for participating in health screening, promotion and checkup programs. Participants are rewarded for achieving goals, such as receiving an influenza vaccination, meeting body mass index targets, or exercising in a gym for a certain number of times per week, similar to how U.S. plans are structured.
The researchers examined the results from a wellness program run by one of Germany’s largest insurers and found that participants in the program had “significantly” lower costs than those who didn’t participate. The average difference between the two groups was $251 per year, but that number drops to $143 when wellness program costs are factored in. (Researchers didn’t address whether participating in wellness incentive programs led to better health outcomes. Presumably there was no reliable data.)
The article notes that unlike in Germany, U.S. law permits allowing both “carrots” and “sticks” (or penalties) to spur desired health behaviors:
While those dollar amounts may not seem like much, a lot more is at stake in the U.S. Starting in 2014, employers can offer wellness incentives of up to 30 percent (and in some cases 50 percent) of the cost of coverage, up from a current 20 percent. That 30 percent figure represents a significant amount — $1,620 of the average cost of coverage in the U.S., according to the report.
The article also notes that one of the big challenges for wellness incentive programs is how it potentially serves to have a counter-effect on low income populations, since they are less likely to participate in these programs. This could then have the undesirable effect of actually making health care even more unaffordable and potentially worsening health disparities.
It would seem then, that it will be wise for much thought to be put into the right combination of wellness incentives that drives the desired behaviors among diverse groups of people in all socioeconomic groups. What do you think is right answer to this complex issue?