Doubts arise about Medicaid incentive programs

As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Medicaid program will begin introducing $100 million in incentives for enrollees to improve personal habits that could have a positive impact on their health, reports Kaiser Health News. However, doubts have arisen about the efficacy of such a program.

The program, which is in the form of grants to states to encourage Medicaid enrollees to stop smoking and keep weight, blood pressure and cholesterol in check, is considered by policy experts a way to avoid costly chronic illnesses. Spending on diabetes and cholesterol-related illnesses account for 75 percent of the expenditures on healthcare in the U.S.

Each state would have to follow general guidelines for incentive programs. Successful enrollees would include coupons and gift certificates. Some states already have incentive programs in place. Idaho, for example, provides $200 in vouchers to enrollees who reach incentive thresholds.

"Medicaid is almost the sweet spot for financial rewards," George Loewenstein, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University said according to KHN. But Loewenstein believes that incentives for reducing weight are not likely to succeed.

Doubts also have arisen in Florida, which participated in a pilot program that provided credits at pharmacies to purchase merchandise. Few pharmacies were aware of the program, and only a handful of Floridians ever attended a smoking cessation course.

"There's a question about whether this is really incentivizing anything...that link is very dubious," said Greg Mellowe, policy director at the consumer advocacy group Florida CHAIN.

To learn more:
- read the Kaiser Health News article
- here are the details of the incentive program

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