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B. Walker: Is Healthcare Consumerism a Solution for Lack of Patient Engagement?

Posted by Brent Walker on Fri, Jul 11, 2014

If your employer offered you a free FitBit, would it motivate you to adopt healthier behavior? What about plain hard cash?

In the age of healthcare consumerism, organizations– from hospitals and employers to private insurers, pharmacies and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)– are looking for an edge to improve personal engagement in health and wellness. This is particularly important when managing high utilizers who, according to CMS data, represent only 5 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries, but account for 54 percent of Medicaid spending. And figures are similar among private insurers.

Rewarding Personal Responsibility

Just last month, Kaiser Health News (KHN) reported on one state’s efforts to improve healthy decision-making among its citizens.

Michigan has followed Iowa’s example, offering lower premiums and cost sharing to Medicaid beneficiaries if they participate in an annual health risk assessment with their regular physician and work to quit smoking or lose weight.

Stephen Fitton, Michigan Medicaid Director, notes that while the program could help control Medicaid spending, the state is also “… really trying to find ways in which we can make the population of Michigan healthier.”

The program offers a $50 gift card incentive for patients who get the assessment. The state also hopes that the financial stakes – potential penalties such as a lien on tax refunds should participants fail to pay into the health care savings account– will help them “move the needle” on improving population health.

They will, however, have to approach the penalties carefully.

According to a KHN poll, 75 percent of Americans are opposed to financial penalties related to employer wellness programs and are likely to have a similar response to government wellness initiatives.  The 2013 c2b Consumer Diagnostic found similar results, where only 36% of consumers agreed that health insurance companies should penalize members for unhealthy behaviors (e.g., increased premiums or copays).




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