Do financial incentives really boost wellness program participation?
The American Journal of Managed Care | Alison Cuellar, PhD; Amelia M. Haviland, PhD; Seth Richards-Shubik, PhD; Anthony T. LoSasso, PhD; Alicia Atwood, MPH; Hilary Wolfendale, MA; Mona Shah, MS; and Kevin G. Volpp, MD, PhD | Boosting Workplace Wellness Programs With Financial Incentives
Objectives: Using a large natural experiment among 39 employers, we examined the effect of adding financial incentives to workplace wellness programs.
Study Design: The 39 study employers used the same national insurer to administer their wellness programs, allowing us to observe preventive and health-promoting behaviors before and after financial incentives were implemented. Fifteen treatment employers introduced financial incentives into their wellness programs over 3 years, providing variation in the start dates, whereas 24 employers did not introduce financial incentives. These incentives were attached to specific health actions, including annual preventive visits, biometric screening, and selected screening services for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Methods: Using multivariate regression, we examined employees and their adult dependents who had insurance coverage for at least 12 months and were offered a wellness program. Outcomes include utilization of annual preventive visits, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol testing, fasting blood sugar (FBS) testing, and breast, cervical, and colon cancer screens.
Results: Financial incentives increased annual preventive visits by 7.7 percentage points, cholesterol testing by 7.9 percentage points, and FBS testing by 7.1 percentage points (P <.05 for each). Compared with baseline rates, these changes represent significant improvements of 21% to 29%. Increases for cancer screening were smaller: 2.7 percentage points for mammograms and 2.2 percentage points for colorectal cancer screening, which correspond to increases over baseline rates of 5.5% and 7.3%, respectively. We did not detect an impact on cervical cancer screening. Conclusions: The addition of financial incentives to wellness programs increases their impact on selected preventive care services.
Takeaway Points: The addition of financial incentives to workplace wellness programs has a notable impact on whether individuals receive preventive care services. Modest financial incentive programs in workplace settings can be effective; however, individuals who did not receive services in the past year respond less than others. Because targeting financial incentives to selected subgroups is challenging within the Affordable Care Act framework, wellness programs may require additional outreach efforts.