Through our expenditure actions, most people understand intuitively that eating a nutritionally sound diet, exercising, not smoking, not drinking
in excess, and undergoing preventive exams and screenings all enhance one's chances of staying healthy. And, in turn, the likelihood of having lower health
If “it's good for you” isn't reason enough, financial incentives from an employer or health plan can provide an added push to encourage us to
develop healthier habits, and to get into programs that teach how to live a healthier lifestyle.
Healthy Living Incentive programs sweeten the pot for employees to take steps toward and engage in healthier habits. In an online survey of health care industry
professionals (employers and health plans) conducted by the Health Intelligence Network, 43% had lifestyle incentive programs in place. Of the remainder,
47% planned to implement such programs in the future.
What behaviors do Healthy Living Incentive programs encourage? Some of the most common include:
- undergoing health risk assessments
- participating in smoking cessation programs
- joining fitness programs (nutritional counseling, weight loss, exercise)
- participating in disease management programs for chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol
The incentives that provide the added push to get employees into these programs might include:
- gift cards
- reduced health care premiums
Or, some employers and health plans try to nudge employees toward healthier behaviors with a stick instead of a carrot. These programs assess surcharges
for employees with an unhealthy behavior who fail to participate in an available program; for example, smokers who decline participation in a smoking
cessation program. However, the attitude toward the use of negative incentives is split. In a survey of large U.S. companies from Pricewaterhousecoopers
Health Research Institute, 48% said that employees who exhibit unhealthy behaviors should be responsible for paying a larger share of their health benefit
costs, but only a slightly smaller percentage (42%) disagreed.
According to the Health Intelligence Network online survey, the behaviors that earned incentives most frequently were:
- proper nutrition (44% of the employer and health plan respondents had incentives in place for this)
- smoking cessation (34%)
- adequate exercise (20%)
The incentives used most were:
- a reduced health care benefit cost for participants (43% of the employer and health plan respondents utilized this as an incentive)
- merchandise and certificates (24%)
- cash (21%)
Employers considering Healthy Living Incentive programs (or unhealthy lifestyle disincentives) need to be aware of any applicable laws governing benefit plans
that might limit implementation of such initiatives. Consultation with a benefits professional or legal counsel can help ensure that provisions of the
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of health status) and other applicable state or
federal laws are not violated in designing and implementing healthy lifestyle incentives.
Thanks for reading. Does your business or employer have a Healthy Living Incentive program in place?