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Cash motivates employees to succeed in wellness programs

Cash motivates employees to succeed in wellness programs

Using financial incentives in conjunction with a workplace wellness program can greatly increase employee participation in healthful activities and the probability of improved health outcomes, Cigna Corp. said Tuesday in a report.

The health insurer's study of more than 200,000 employees of midsize and large companies — firms with at least 500 full-time employees — between 2012 and 2014 revealed that employee completion rates of biometric screenings increased to 55% from 20% when linked with financial rewards and/or penalties tied to specific health outcomes, according to a summary report of the study.

Outcomes-based incentives also were found to increase employees' probability of achieving certain healthful goals. Employees were 35.8% more likely to achieve a body mass index below 30, 10.9% more likely to lower their total cholesterol to less than 240, and 47.2% more likely to lower their blood pressure to under 140/90 when offered a financial incentive for doing so, Cigna's study found.

“Employers are increasingly rewarding employees who identify and address their potential health risks, by discounting the employee's health plan premiums or adding funds to their health spending account to lower their annual out-of-pocket expenses,” Mary Picerno, Cigna's chief nursing officer in Albany, New York, said in a statement released Tuesday. “In 2014, Cigna distributed more than $80 million in rewards to Cigna group health plan customers who completed 1.6 million health goals. In the first eight months of 2015, Cigna customers have earned $93,814,080 in awards” through their employer-sponsored incentive programs.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2015 Employee Health Benefits Survey, also released Tuesday, approximately 20% of employers with at least 200 full-time workers reward or penalize employees based on certain biometric outcomes. The practice is more common among the nation's largest employers — 27% of companies with 5,000 or more employees use incentives based on biometric outcomes, compared with 18% of companies with between 200 and 999 employees and 23% of employers with headcounts between 1,000 and 4,999 employees.

The most common biometric measure tied to financial rewards or penalties was blood pressure (93%), followed by body mass index (87%), cholesterol (85%) and blood glucose (67%), according to Kaiser's survey results.

Seventy-six percent of employers offering outcomes-based rewards and/or penalties in 2015 cap the dollar value of those incentives between $150 and $2,000 per employee per year.

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