Follow-through remains key to behavioral economics

May 1, 2012

Not everyone responds to incentives, so keep reminding your members to engage

Key Points

GIVEN THEIR UNIQUE relationships with members, health plans need to tread carefully when it comes to using behavioral economics to influence member behavior. For one thing, it can be hard to predict how members will make healthcare decisions when cash or other incentives are offered.

Consumer-directed health plans, health savings accounts and high deductibles have changed the mindset somewhat, but consumers are too accustomed to being insulated from actual costs of care.

A major challenge when using behavioral economics in healthcare is that it often involves convincing consumers to act immediately to improve an abstract thing like "health" for some distant point in the future. That can be a difficult case to make.

"We keep trying to sell health, but I don't think people are particularly motivated by their health," says Sofian. "I think they are motivated by what is meaningful in their life. Therefore, we have to build our products, messaging and services around what is meaningful to those members and their lives."

To that end, Premera is working to develop a platform that provides rewards and incentives for various behaviors. For example, in addition to providing incentives such as premium reductions for completing a health risk assessment or completing all preventive care visits, the program will offer product discounts and tools to help with weight loss, exercise and other healthy behaviors. The tools will be free as long as members follow through with desired behavior.

"If you don't follow through, you pay for it," says Sofian.

The platform offers a more immediate reward to members than a program without rewards or one that rewards only consistent performance for several months.

Current mobile technology and apps seem to be tailor-made for this approach. With so many members embracing smartphones and social media, health plans that leverage the technologies to support health and wellness will be better able to engage members.

"Individuals use their devices to track their own performance, to set up reminder systems, and to use calorie counting and activity trackers," says Luann Heinen, vice president with the National Business Group on Health. "Then they turn to social media for support with meeting these challenges.