Incentive to Sweat

There is an article making its way around the social media scene that shows scientific evidence that suggests exercising can prove “potentially as effective” as taking medication alone. In other words, for some ailments, patients who only exercise compared to patients who only take medications have almost identical recovery and mortality rates.

If taking medications provide me with the same results as increasing my activity level, why wouldn’t I want to just skip the pills and go for the gym?

Let’s do a comparison:

  • Medications costs money, cause potential side effects, and medications generally only target one specific problem.
  • Exercising may or may not cost money, (depending on if you work out at home or go to the gym). You can get injured or make yourself significantly sore while exercising, but a little common sense and training can generally avoid those negative outcomes. Ultimately, however, what makes exercising the better choice is the fact that regular physical activity can improve your overall health.

Clearly, medical insurance companies recognize the benefits of exercising in the long-term. Sure – most of these companies are monetarily driven, and in the long run it’s far easier to take care of people who have generally good health versus patients who are dependent on medications and who have ever-weakening immune systems. Regardless of their motivations for promoting exercise, the fact is that a lot of insurance companies want people to get in shape and stay healthy.

According to an article from Women’s Day, insurance companies may actually cover a lot of additional expenses as a means to promote wellness. During this interview,

Jaimee Zanzinger talks about the lesser-known expenses insurance companies will pay for, including discounts on gym memberships.

While I agree that promoting such discounts shows a proactive approach to health and wellness, I think insurance companies could provide a little more carrot and a little less stick. Discounts are great, after all, but offering a tiny monetary reimbursement for a gym membership doesn’t really push people to improve their health.

As an alternative – or perhaps in addition to the current discount plans – I think medical insurance companies should look into providing multi-tiered levels of incentives to customers who actively make an effort to improve their health.

***First of all, customer should have the right to opt out, especially since this type of program would involve insurance companies closely monitoring each customer’s physical fitness progress. Anyone who would agree to this program would have to accept that to receive the benefits they must jump through the necessary hoops, including appointments with physicians or trainers, etc..***

The first tier of discounts would remain the same with what insurance companies currently offer, which in most cases is either a yearly reimbursement for a gym membership, or the insurance pays for a portion of the monthly gym fees.

To receive the next level of discounts/incentives, members would have to prove that they are actively using their memberships. Most gyms monitor when customers come in to work-out, so assuming the proper waivers were signed, gyms could submit reports to various insurance companies showing the attendance of certain customers. From that point on, insurance companies could offer different levels of incentives. For example, for customers who attend the gym at least twice a week for two consecutive months, perhaps the insurance company could cover 35% of the monthly gym fees instead of just 30%. The more days a week customers go to the gym, the higher the discounted rate.

Although receiving a higher discount rate on memberships may be worth it to some customers, it may not be enough to motivate people to work out, which brings us to the next level.

To get the benefits from this third level, customer would first have to prove their level of dedication to going to the gym at least two times a week for two consecutive months. During that time, customers would also go in for weigh-ins and/or biometric measurement scans, which would be performed at the gym every other week. Customers could do this either when they were at the gym to work out or maybe at some other random time. Whether or not each customer’s health improves drastically over the first two months of measuring should not matter. The point is customers are showing their level of dedication by not only going to the gym on a regular basis, but also by participating in a measurement monitoring program. By doing so and by continuing to do so, insurance companies could offer a wide range of incentives.

Potential incentives for the above level, or any additional levels, could include any or all of the following:

  • Reduced deductibles
  • Discounts on co-pays
  • Lower fees for other services
  • Lower monthly insurance premium payments
  • Discounts on prescription medications

For these incentives to prove useful or valuable to customers, I think a tiered process would work better. To put it simply, the more you put into your health, the more benefits you should get. In addition, I think your ongoing efforts to improve your health should be recognized every year. If you keep the same insurance carrier, for instance, I think they should keep providing you incentives for your years of dedication. If you change insurance companies, which many people do every year, I think your new insurance carrier should recognize your efforts and provide you with some benefits and incentives to get you involved with their wellness incentive programs.

On the flipside, if you do not stay dedicated to physical fitness, I think your benefits should slowly decrease. Of course there should be some leeway to account for people getting sick or for dealing with other issues, but there are ways to account for a reasonable amount of missed days at the gym. Since insurance companies would be monitoring your progress, perhaps they could even send out letters of encouragement when they see a consistent drop in gym attendance.

I’m not suggesting that insurance companies should bend over backwards to offer their customers more discounts. I’m merely arguing that if insurance companies REALLY want to improve the overall health of their customers, they should use better incentive tactics that customers actually care about. Furthermore, it’s within their best interest to have healthier clientele. No matter what happens, people will pay for insurance coverage out of paranoia factor alone, so it isn’t as if insurance companies will lose clients by promoting people to live healthier lives.


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