With the promise of summer sunshine right around the corner, being able to spend more time outdoors is quickly becoming a reality once again.  Of course, sunshine and cloudless skies may not be the only incentive for being active; nowadays many health insurance companies are promoting tools and programs to track and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Under regulations that went into effect in conjunction with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in January 2014, insurers can now offer higher maximum rewards for wellness programs. For instance, insurers can give customers who use health-contingent wellness programs a reward of up to 30% of the cost of health coverage for meeting certain standards.  Programs encouraging reduction or prevention of tobacco use could reward up to 50 percent.

Insurers can and do offer a variety of other wellness programming that are considered participatory wellness programming, or programs that are available to individuals regardless of their individual health status.  In a mailer sent to customers, United Healthcare offered a $20 monthly incentive for visiting a gym 12 times in one month, and directed recipients to the participating gym nearest to their address. Other programs that were highlighted in new member enrollment kits and newsletters include: health coaching related to nutrition, health screenings and discount programs for weight loss and tobacco cessation.

With the concerted effort from insurers to offer a full suite of wellness benefits to their customers, the question becomes whether or not customers are taking advantage of the programs.  According to Mintel’s consumer trend experts, about half of consumers surveyed participate in some type of wellness program if the program is offered.  However, men were more likely than women to participate in every type of wellness program, particularly cholesterol screenings, discounted fitness memberships and organized sports.

On the other hand, women and older employees were much less likely to participate in wellness programs that were offered, especially programs such as organized sports or fitness club memberships.  Mintel’s trend experts noted that one way to engage both women as well as older employees would be to offer less rigorous and more social programs like walking clubs. Another way to engage customers who aren’t currently using wellness programs could be through the promotion of health tracking and wellness features through the company’s mobile app or the use of health monitoring devices to track physical activity and healthy eating so that individuals could participate privately.

As the Affordable Care Act swings into full gear in 2014, a larger pool of individuals that are insured will be able to take advantage of programs that promote healthy lifestyles.  Insurers must find ways to engage a diverse group of customers by offering a range of programming that can accommodate those that are already actively participating in healthy living and those that may just be starting out on the path to wellness.

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Stephanie Roy is a Senior Industry Analyst focused on insurance for Mintel Comperemedia.  She is responsible for providing internal and external stakeholders with insights and analysis on trends in the Life and Health insurance industries.

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