Many medical schemes and life insurance companies offer wellness incentive programmes to their clients. Considering the monthly membership fee is usually less than R200 a month per family, it is insignificant compared to the value of the discounts offered. It is clear that these reward programmes are costing the companies millions of rands.
Take for example Discovery Vitality which offers an 80% discount on Virgin Active gym membership – worth around R4000 a year. In addition members can receive up to a massive 25% off healthy food options at Pick n Pay and soon Woolworths. If you spend R6000 a month on groceries and half is spent on fruit, vegetables, chicken, fish and healthy cereals then you would save R750 on your grocery bill or R9000 a year. This is before discounts on movie or plane tickets.
Momentum HealthRewards is a free incentive programme offered by Momentum Health that literally pays you to exercise. If you go to gym, run, cycle or even walk regularly you can earn up to R200 a month in cash paid into a HealthSaver account. These funds can either be used for regular medical expenses or for cosmetic procedures such as eye laser surgery. If you sign up for Mometum’s Multiplier reward programme those cash benefits double in addition to other lifestyle discounts.
Considering the cost of these rewards, why are profit-driven companies offering them? Because they save the organisations a ton of money in terms of claims.
The evidence is irrefutable, people who eat properly, do not smoke and exercise regularly have significantly less medical costs, are less likely to be diagnosed with chronic disease and from a life insurers point of view, live longer.
A study by Vitality found that for every additional gym visit a week by a member, they saw a 7% reduction in the cost of hospitalization. A member who increases their exercise by two more sessions a week saved the scheme 13% in lower hospitalization costs for the individual. Vitality also found that Vitality members who engaged in activities lived eight years longer than insured people who were not Vitality members.
A further study of the Vitality Group programme implemented in US company Alcon, found that by encouraging employees to be more healthy, Alcon saved a massive $3.5 million over three years due to lower short-term disability and worker’s compensation claims.
What is really concerning is that while death from infectious diseases has fallen globally over the last few decades, death and illness from lifestyle related diseases is on the rise.
A study in the US on the health of the baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) show that they are sicker than their parents. They are more likely to be obese, are significantly less active than their parents’ generation and suffer more from hypertension and high cholesterol levels.
We may be living longer, but we are living sicker for longer and this is become unaffordable both for individuals and for society.
Lifestyle factors which lead to major disease include high blood pressure, tobacco and alcohol usage, poor diets, obesity and physical inactivity. Our lifestyle choices have become such a major factor that it is estimated that improving peoples’ lifestyle and thereby preventing disease, could result in a 20% reduction in the cost of healthcare.
This is a very significant figure when one considers the rising cost of healthcare. If governments were able to reign in the cost of healthcare through getting their populations to make healthy choices, more money would be available to deliver a generally higher level of care. On an individual level our medical costs would reduce. It is no wonder the insurance industry is prepared to pay us to be healthy.
Dr Derek Yach, a leading international wellness expert and senior vice president of the Vitality Group in the US, says that with the right incentives it is possible to change people’s behaviour.
A study by Vitality of 351 000 members, who receive a 25% rebate on healthy foods at PicknPay, found that the incentive has already had a major impact on the food choices of its members. Members said they had increased their daily fruit and vegetable intake by 21% and decreased the probability of regular consumption of high-sugar food by 29%, high-salt foods by 24%, fried foods by 27%, processed meat by 15% and fast-food by 17%.
If discounts and incentives are this effective in getting people to become healthier, the financial industry needs to find similar incentives to encourage people to save and avoid compulsive spending and a dependence on debt.