Need a Push to Work Out? Insurance Co. May Have the Answer

Walking 5,000 steps a day for cheaper insurance works, study finds

Incentivized fitness seems to be all the rage these days.

Yesterday we wrote up a study that suggests some people are born needing extra poking and prodding to lace up their running shoes; and recently we’ve covered research that looks into using both coercion and cash to that end.

Now, in a possible peek into our future under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a new study out of the University of Michigan looks at one of the first large-scale attempts by an insurance company to put these ideas into practice—and the results are decisive.

An astounding 97 percent of people hit a target of walking 5,000 steps a day in exchange for lower insurance rates.

In 2010, Blue Care Network, an insurer in Michigan, launched a voluntary “wellness” program that rewarded obese customers with reduced premiums and copays if they met exercise targets. (Healthy enrollees in the program also got these benefits as long as they stayed healthy). Over 6,500 participants chose a walking program, which required them to wear a pedometer and upload their monthly logs to WalkingSpree, an online tracking service.

If participants met their goal of 450,000 steps a quarter—an average of 5,000 a day—they got to keep their discounts, amounting to about 20 percent. For some families, that added up to about $2000 for the year the study took place.

But here’s the catch. Although only 3 percent failed to stick with the program, a third of the successful group felt they were being coerced. They considered losing their discounts to be punishment.

“There are ethical debates around the idea of forcing someone to be personally responsible for health care costs related to not exercising, but we expect to see more of these approaches to financially motivate healthier behaviors,” said senior author Caroline R. Richardson in a press release.

The authors note that the ACA—a.k.a. Obamacare—is likely to expand the number of such programs.

Until that happens, the rest of us will have to motivate ourselves the old fashioned way.


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