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YOUR MONEY, YOUR HEALTH

Insurers reward good behaviors

Taking better care of yourself could pay for in smaller deductibles or lower premiums.

May 11, 2009|Francesca Lunzer Kritz

We recently looked at some employer cash and gift rewards for healthy behaviors such as biking to work and giving up smoking. At some companies, rewards come in the form of reduced health insurance costs.

A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 1% of firms offered employees a smaller deductible as an incentive and 4% offered a break on premiums. Workers looking at high-deductible plans may want to see if insurers offer rebates for healthy assessments or improvements.

Two years ago, United Healthcare introduced an option for employers called Vital Measures. Employees of firms that contract for this option select a high-deductible medical plan and can get a voluntary screening to see if they meet benchmarks for such things as body mass index, cholesterol, and blood pressure. For each benchmark met, employees receive $500 off their deductibles, according to company spokeswoman Cheryl Randolph. Meet all four, and the deductible for a healthy single employee can be lowered to $500, down from $2,500, and for a family of four to a deductible of $1,000, down from $5,000.

Although many insurers offer rewards programs, companies have to opt in and often pay extra for the program. So don't be surprised if you hear that an insurer offers, say, airline miles to some members but that you're not eligible.

Blue Shield of California, which has more than 1.3 million beneficiaries in Southern California, has an online program called Healthy Lifestyle Rewards that starts with a wellness assessment and then lets users track changes in lifestyle habits such as nutrition, stress management, smoking cessation and exercise.

Members can earn up to $50 in cash rewards for completing the assessment and another $50 for each 12 weeks of participation in a healthy lifestyle program, up to a total of $200 in one year, says company spokesman Aron Ezra. For employer-sponsored coverage, the program kicks in only if the employer pays for the rewards.

Some programs target people with specific illnesses. United Healthcare has a rewards system for some with diabetes that includes some free diabetes supplies and some medicines.

People buying health insurance as individuals won't often see rewards but should expect discounts through their insurer, such as price breaks on gym memberships, weight loss programs and exercise equipment. (Look on insurer websites under "members" or "patients" or call the member number on your insurance card.)

Such perks are generally offered without having to show lifestyle changes or fill in a health assessment, says Kristie Howard, of consulting firm Longfellow Benefits in Boston.

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