Members earn rewards for healthier lifestyles

Points can be applied to deductibles, co-pays

As part of its efforts to promote healthy living and save health care dollars in the long run, Regence BlueCross BlueShield is rewarding members for adopting healthy lifestyles.

The company has introduced Activate, a self-managed health care plan that allows members to earn points for engaging in healthy behaviors and convert the points to Member Choice Funds, which they can use to pay deductibles, co-pays, or other out-of-pocket expenses.

"Employers today want to help their employees adopt healthier lifestyles. Activate encourages members to become active partners in their health care and rewards them directly for that behavior," says Cary Badger, MPH, vice president market development.

Members enrolled in Activate can collect up to $600 a year in Member Choice Funds that can be applied to their deductible or co-pay.

Members automatically get 200 points when they complete a health risk assessment.

They can earn additional points for 75 different activities, ranging from enrolling in a smoking cessation or weight loss program to getting a flu shot or attending a healthy cooking class to visiting web sites that offer healthy living advice. If they log on to the sites through myRegence.com, their visits are automatically tracked and added to their personal choice account.

The program primarily works on the honor system. If a member reports participating in an activity that qualifies, he or she accumulates the points.

If members don't use their personal choice points, they roll over to the next year.

Regence introduced the program at a time when many employer groups are offering their employees health care plans that have higher deductibles and co-pays than in the past.

A $1,500 deductible is not uncommon among employer groups insured with Regence, Badger says.

"When people know they will be rewarded for healthy behavior, it makes the increased deductibles and co-pays easier to accept," he adds.

To help employees stick with their healthy behavior, the Activate program, along with other Regence plans, offers members access to a health coach, a 24/7 nurse line, and the Special Beginnings maternity management program. In addition, they belong to the Regence Advantages program, which offers discounts on hearing aids, fitness club membership, weight management programs, and other health-related activities. Regence members have access to health coaching and online nurse advice even if they don't sign up for the Activate account on myRegence.com.

The wellness program is integrated with disease management and case management.

"Activate builds the wellness component into the overall program. The rewards system allows members to immediately see the results of their healthy behavior," Badger says.

The program is a win-win for the employers, their employees, and the health care system as a whole, Badger says.

"Our Activate program returns money to consumers when they start healthy behaviors. Even though the savings won't materialize quickly for the employer and the health plan, we know that it will lower health care costs in the long run," Badger says.

Employees become active and feel better; they have fewer illnesses and miss less work, which translates into a healthier bottom line for the company, he adds.

It's hard to calculate an immediate return on investment for wellness programs, Badger points out.

"If a person quits smoking today, we may not see results in his or her health care utilization for 10 years or so, but in the long term, it's the best for the person and the health care system," he says.

Regence's health care cost trends have steadily decreased since 2002 when the company began offering incentive programs that have encouraged their employees to lose weight, quit smoking, and engage in other healthy behaviors, Badger says.

Regence began offering the Activate program to insured groups in mid-2008 and doesn't yet have outcomes data. However, the program has gotten rave reviews from participants, he says.

"Members have told us that they like the idea of receiving immediate recognition for trying to change their health," he says.