Left to Unwellness

piggy and stethescopeOur health insurance rolled over at the start of this month, taking with it the wellness program I’ve participated in for the last year and a half.  The wellness program paid me $1.00 for every week that I ate five servings of fruits and vegetables five or more days and $0.37 per 30-minute workout, up to once per day.  There were other program options, such as smoking cessation, but the food and workouts ones and the yearly wellness survey were the only ones applicable to me.  Over the time that I participated I earned about $150 in rewards, which I took in the form of Amazon gift cards.


But now that program is no more!  All that’s left is their discount buying program, which I guess would be useful if I ever bought things.  I much prefer the straight-up money for tracking, which I already did!


I’m almost ashamed to say it, but being paid for a minimum number of servings of fruits and vegetables definitely got me eating more of them!  I had been tracking my eating for some time but I thought of food in terms of macronutrients primarily, not food groups.  I was eating a very low amount of sugar at the time, which made fitting in any fruits and some vegetables rather tricky, but I was still eating some grains “for the fiber.”  Finding out about the wellness program coincided for me with reading a couple books on the Paleo/Primal lifestyle, both of which spurred me to focus more on the food groups than macros.  I think this has definitely been a good thing for my health, though not necessarily for weight loss.


The other behavior change I made was lengthening all my workouts to at least 30 minutes, even those designed to be shorter, which was a waste of time but I wanted to come by the $0.37 honestly!


Speaking of coming by it honestly, Kyle pointed out to me the day I first read about the program that it would be nothing to game the system.  There was no verification for the logged food and workouts so it was completely on your honor.  I’m sure that plenty of people just made up whatever to get the maximum rewards.  We assumed that they must have built that loss into their incentives.


I’ve read that overall wellness programs are effective in reducing heath care expenditures, but I guess this particular one must not have been, since they cancelled it.  It’s all about the bottom line to these insurance companies, right?  I will definitely miss the gift cards; the only upside is that I no longer have to extend my two “10-minute” weekly workouts to 30 minutes.


When I make goals for myself I prefer input goals rather than output goals because I don’t have control over outputs, i.e. ‘I will eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily’ but not ‘I will lose one pound this week.’  But if I were the health insurance company, I would prefer to pay out only for results, not the inputs like this particular program did.  I would want to pay for improving health metrics or keeping them in ideal ranges, not just potentially ineffective efforts.


Have you ever participated in a health insurance wellness program and how did it work?  Do you prefer input goals or output goals?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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22 Responses to "Left to Unwellness"

  1. lucas says:

    We just finished up our annual wellness challenge at work and I got $100 in amazon gift cards for averaging 30+ min of exercise a day for 8 weeks. Not to hard when you bike 25-30 to work one way on most days 🙂

    It is silly but they do work for me as well. Even though i know I am only earning like $1 a hour for my exercise it still helps motivate me 🙂 I was trying to find them, but I know there are some websites where you can put money down towards your goal and only get it back if you perform your commitment?? Might be useful if you have a strong goal or your spouse wants to encourage you to meet a goal 🙂

    1. Emily says:

      That’s a sweet reward for just doing your normal routine! And getting you to exercise on the days you don’t cycle in, I guess. I am actually participating in a challenge at the moment on the weight loss forum I’m on – no money is at stake but there is accountability!

  2. Matt Becker says:

    “When I make goals for myself I prefer input goals rather than output goals because I don’t have control over outputs”

    Such an important message. That’s one of the reasons I have such a problem with the focus on weight with health. A healthy weight is different for every person, but everyone can benefit from exercising well and eating nutritious food. Same with money. Focus on saving enough for your goals and don’t worry too much about the regular ups and downs. Focusing on the inputs is much more productive.
    Matt Becker recently posted..What Determines Your Investment Performance?

    1. Emily says:

      I agree that your savings rate is way more impactful than eking out a slightly higher rate of return on investment. This is why we have savings goals and not net worth goals. 🙂

  3. Mrs PoP says:

    Have you tried gympact? There’s no cheating since it’s either GPS verified or motion verified, but payouts per workout have varied between $.27 and $.55 in the time that I’ve even using it since last October. So far I’ve banked about $100. All you need is either an android or iOS phone.
    Mrs PoP recently posted..The Gift Of Time

    1. Emily says:

      I checked Gympact out some time ago but I couldn’t use it because most of my workouts are at home/outside and the remaining ones are at my university’s gym, which wasn’t available or something. Looking at it again now they have “Gympact Everywhere” but I’m not sure if it will work for the kind of exercise I do (and there is a 30 minute minimum!). I will investigate further. I do like the concept, I just don’t like these companies trying to tell me how and where I should work out to qualify!

      1. Mrs PoP says:

        It might be worth checking again as some of the technology has improved. It’s easy to add gyms, and I’ve never had one be rejected. Gympact anywhere doesn’t need to be 30 consecutive minutes – you have about 2 hours to register 30 minutes where you met a minimum threshold of activity. Honestly, it’s a pretty low threshold and is easy to hit as long as you’re not sitting on the couch.
        Runkeeper integration means any workout where you’re outside (running, walking, cycling) counts as long as it’s 30 min or longer at a pace > 2mph. Again, 2mph is a pretty low bar for people our age. =).
        Mrs PoP recently posted..The Gift Of Time

        1. Emily says:

          Oh, they integrate with Runkeeper? I just started using that app for my walks, which are definitely > 2 mph. 🙂 I’m thinking more about my weights and intervals workouts, which are quite short, and tennis. I don’t have any interest in strapping my phone to my arm while playing tennis! But I can definitely make a pact for my walks, which at least through August I’m trying to do 4x/wk.

  4. I’m sorry that this program went away, but I think wellness programs are some of the best ideas to come out of the healthcare industry. Establishing healthy habits through small value rewards almost inevitably provides a good ROI for the insurance company.

    It’s certainly possible that this one wasn’t successful, but I wonder if they company is betting on the healthy habits being self-sustaining at this point.
    Done by Forty recently posted..So Long, Perkstreet

    1. Emily says:

      That doesn’t really make sense to me though because there is so much turnover in plans. Before 2 years ago our school switched providers every year that we had their plan! Maybe they are just regrouping and will launch another wellness program soon.

  5. SarahN says:

    This is topical – as management at work just cancelled our free gym program. We were allowed to write in with feedback, and I just received a reply – it’s annoying that they say it costs $750k, but per person, per week, that’s $2! Surely the benefits are worth it (true cost, according to the gyms, it $12 a week per person – still ‘cheap’ enough that I might pay). But now we have no option. So annoying. Still, it’s amazing that health insurance would incentivise this behaviour, it is risky, but I’m sure some people get involved in the proper way, and get the benefits of a healthier life.
    SarahN recently posted..Zero Waste Wednesday Weigh In

    1. Emily says:

      That stinks that you no longer have that gym membership. Actually our work did something similar-ish – we had to “opt in” to our gym memberships so that they can eliminate paying for the students who don’t use the gym at all. But those of us that want it still have it.

  6. Hey, be happy you aren’t at the university that switched to penalties instead of rewards!

    My wife’s employer just has a health screening and a health questionaire to help you determine risk factors for yourself. If you do both, it’s $10/month off the health insurance cost. For the both of us, it basically cuts that bill in half.
    Then for each of the four targets in the screening you meet, you get $100 in your HSA account, split up over 10 months.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Does Car Sharing Present a Moral Hazard?

    1. Emily says:

      What university was that??

      That sounds like a great deal for your insurance! I like the individualized approach.

      1. Penn State. They aren’t penalizing people for being unhealthy, just for not taking the health screening so they can see if they are unhealthy. The story was on NPR two weeks ago. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/08/02/208167230/penn-state-to-penalize-workers-who-refuse-health-screenings
        Edward Antrobus recently posted..You Might Be Wasting Your Money on Organics If…

  7. I wish we could get a gym discount with my insurance. That would be awesome! Outside of surprisingly low deductibles ($25 for a gyno appointment is fabulous) and decent drug coverage, I don’t get any snazzy benefits like that. I’d definitely try them though if I did!
    Tara @ Streets Ahead Living recently posted..What are you willing to sacrifice for your goals?

    1. Emily says:

      It’s probably better to be happy with your copays and overall coverage than to be concerned about the lack of wellness options so I think you still have a good deal!

    2. “I wish we could get a gym discount with my insurance.” —A lot of people would rejoice if that happened.
      Marissa @ Thirty Six Months recently posted..Chicago: Blogher Style

  8. Maybe they’re hoping that you are now intrinsically motivated? Or maybe they found they were reducing intrinsic motivation.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Identity: Who are we, really, and do we care?

    1. Emily says:

      Well it definitely “worked” in my case and I still have intrinsic motivation, so they are definitely saving $100/year on me. 🙂 No idea about everyone else, though!

  9. […] @ Evolving Personal Finance writes Left to Unwellness – Our insurance company has cancelled the wellness program I participated in, but my behavior […]

  10. […] Left to Unwellness was featured in the Finance Carnival for Young Adults. […]

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