Wellness incentives save UnitedHealth millions

The insurer saved $107 million in first 3 years

The U.S healthcare system could prevent 80 percent of all heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes and up to 40 percent of all cancer by getting people to eat better, exercise more and stop smoking. Such statistics explain why payers are putting more focus on health and wellness initiatives.

The health and wellness opportunity grows when looking at the workplace, where people spend most of their time. Doing just that, UnitedHealthcare reaped about $107 million in healthcare cost savings in only the first 36 months of implementing its internal health incentives program, Robyn Harmon (pictured), health strategies consultant at the Minneapolis-based insurer, told FierceHealthPayer.

In this exclusive interview, Harmon discusses how UnitedHealth is using incentives to encourage employees and members to live healthier lives, and what it takes to really engage people in their health.

FierceHealthPayer: How does UnitedHealthcare incentivize consumers to live a healthier lifestyle?

Robyn Harmon: When it comes to consumers, we have various programs available. We have a program where we provide up to $175 in gift cards to members for being engaged in their health, by doing things like completing a health assessment, completing online health programs and engaging with a telephonic health coach.

We also have a program with small businesses. We provide them with a free biometric screening kit. They also have access to telephonic wellness coaches for free and we give a gym reimbursement of up to $240 per year for going to the gym a certain number of times per month.

FierceHealthPayer: What does UnitedHealthcare's internal incentive program entail?

Harmon: It's an annual program where we complete a health assessment and then see a physician for our annual screenings--both biometric screenings and preventative screenings. From there, they're looking for us to meet specific biometric goals and if we don't, we have lots of programs to participate in--from telephonic wellness coaching to Weight Watchers, to the diabetes prevention program and all of our clinical programs. For most folks who meet the objectives, they are then rewarded with a health premium discount.

We've seen both outstanding participation as well as outcomes. For example, in the first 24 months of the program, we had 82 percent of our employees earn points. They made improvements on all of the quality measures over a three-year timespan.

We found 7,200 employees who were at risk for diabetes who didn't know that, and were able to provide different programs for them. We also had 44 percent of employees who were overweight engaged in health coaching programs. In the following year we found that they lost an average of 4.5 percent of their weight.