Use of monetary incentives to promote wellness grows

U.S. employers increasingly rely on incentives to drive participation in health programs and to encourage employees and their families to take better care of themselves, according to survey findings from Aon Hewitt.

The HR consultancy's 2012 Health Care Survey of nearly 2,000 U.S. employers (representing over 20 million U.S. employees and their dependents) found that 84% offered employees incentives for participating in a health risk questionnaire, and almost two-thirds (64%) offered an incentive for participation in biometric screenings.

Participation-based incentives

The use of monetary incentives to promote program participation increased dramatically over the past year. In 2012:

• 59% of employers used monetary incentives to promote participation in wellness and health improvement programs, up from 37% in 2011.

• 54% of employers used monetary incentives to promote participation in disease/condition management programs, almost triple the 17% that did so in 2011.

Outcome-based incentives

Moreover, a growing number of employers are linking incentives to a result instead of participation in a program. Of companies that offer incentives or impose consequences in 2012:

• 58% offered some form of incentive for completing lifestyle modification programs, such as quitting smoking or losing weight.

• About a quarter offer incentives for progress or attainment made toward meeting acceptable ranges for biometric measures such as blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol.

“Incentives solely tied to participation tend to become entitlement programs, with employees expecting to be rewarded without any sense of accountability for better health. To truly impact employee behavior change, more organizations realize they need to closely tie rewards to outcomes and better results,” Jim Winkler, Aon Hewitt's chief innovation officer for health and benefits, told the press.

Despite increased employer interest in tying incentives to results, the survey showed room for improvement. For instance:

• More than 80% of employers provide an incentive to complete a health questionnaire, yet less than 10% provide an incentive to address the results of the questionnaire.

• More than 60% of employers provide an incentive to complete biometric screening, but less than 10% provide an incentive to take any action.

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