Dangling a carrot for patients to take healthy steps: Does it work?

By Anna Gorman, California Healthline

Patricia Alexander knew she needed a mammogram but just couldn’t find the time.

“Every time I made an appointment, something would come up,” said Alexander, 53, who lives in Moreno Valley.

Over the summer, her doctor’s office, part of Vantage Medical Group, promised her a $25 Target gift card if she got the exam. Alexander, who’s insured through Medi-Cal, California’s version of the Medicaid program for lower-income people, said that helped motivate her to make a new appointment — and keep it.

Health plans, medical practices and some Medicaid programs are increasingly offering financial incentives to motivate Medicaid patients to engage in more preventive care and make healthier lifestyle choices.

They are following the lead of private insurers and employers that have long rewarded people for healthy behavior such as quitting smoking or maintaining weight loss. Such changes in health-related behavior can lower the cost of care in the long run.

“We’ve seen incentive programs be quite popular in the insurance market, and now we are seeing those ramp up in the Medicaid space as well,” said Robert Saunders, research director at the Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University.

Medicaid patients who agree to be screened for cancer, attend health-related classes or complete health risk surveys can get gift cards, cash, gym memberships, pedometers or other rewards. They may also get discounts on their out-of-pocket health care costs or bonus benefits such as dental care.

Under the Affordable Care Act, 10 states received grants totaling $85 million to test the use of financial rewards as a way to reduce the risk of chronic disease among their Medicaid populations. During the five-year demonstration, states used the incentives to encourage people to enroll in diabetes prevention, weight management, smoking cessation and other preventive programs. The states participating were California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota,…

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