Private employers paying for better health choices, too

In an interesting parallel to the federal government's efforts, private employers are also offering cash incentives to employees who make healthier lifestyle choices.

We told you yesterday about HHS's $100 million set-aside in the Affordable Care Act funding, through which states can create innovative incentive programs for Medicaid beneficiaries.

Today, private employers, too, are giving workers perks in exchange for quitting smoking, losing weight and managing their diabetes symptoms. In fact, a growing number of employers (62 percent) offered health incentive programs in 2010 than in 2009 (57 percent), and they spent 65 percent more on those programs, according to a new report from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health. Employers averaged $430 per employee in 2010 compared to only $260 in 2009.

The incentives included cash, gift cards and financial contributions to health savings accounts. There were even a few punitive actions, including cases in which 12 percent of employers reduced their contribution to an employee's health plan if the employee refused to participate in wellness efforts. 

Interesting note: More than 50 percent of employers who offered health incentives extended them to family members and dependents as well, according to the report. And they spent almost as much as for the employees themselves--an average of $420 for family members.

California already has tried incentive programs in its Medicaid program, with some success. For example, the program gives amusement park tickets to children who receive their wellness checks on time, the Orange County Register reports.

To learn more:
- Read this article in the Orange County Register 
- Read this HHS report on 'States and the Affordable Care Act' (.pdf)
- Get more information about the study by Fidelity and the National Business Group on Health