Incentivized health and wellness programs are a big hit with employers and employees. Nine out of ten employers offered wellness programs with some form of incentive as of the middle of 2017, according to Wex Health. In January 2019 incentive plan tax advantages are due to change thanks to two lawsuits filed by the AARP. Claiming the plans discriminate against people who do not wish to share health and genetic information, the AARP sued the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) because of its health-related incentive plan rules. Regardless of the changes, it does not appear that wellness incentive programs will go away. Employers and insurance companies value the plans for their increased productivity and reduced absenteeism as well as lower health-related costs.
UnitedHealthcare Motion launched in 2016. The program provides eligible health insurance plan participants activity trackers with which they can earn up to $1,000 a year by meeting three daily walking goals. Fitness trackers from Fitbit, Samsung, Garmin, and others are among the trackers that have been available to UnitedHealthcare Motion participants. Just recently the program added Apple Watches to the list, available starting in July. Employees will pay sales tax and shipping cost only when they receive their Apple Watch. Motion participants can pay for the Apple Watches with money earned in the program. UnitedHealthcare Motion is available to employers with self-funded and fully insured health plans nationwide. Employees can earn up to $4 per day by achieving three F.I.T. goals: $1.50 each a day for “Frequency,” defined as walking 500 steps in seven minutes six times a day; $1.25 for “Intensity,” 3,000 steps in 30 minutes: and $1.25 daily for “Tenacity,” 10,000 steps in one day.
The program certainly appears to be a success. Since UnitedHealthcare Motion began, the company has paid out nearly $30 million. Motion enrollees have walked more than 130 billion steps. Among employees eligible for the program, 66% have registered their devices and of those who enroll, 67% stayed active in the program for more than one year. This information isn’t presented by UnitedHealthcare Motion nor by HealthTech insider as a controlled study; it could very well be that many of the Motion enrollees were already avid exercisers who saw the program as a convenient way to pay for a new activity tracker and earn some extra money. Those who already own trackers can register their existing device and use their earnings — tax-free for now — for anything they want. The biggest takeaway, however, is that, despite legal challenges which may change the tax advantages, wellness incentive programs appear to be popular with all parties except those who choose not participate.