August 1, 2012
By Nishi Singhal
When talking about wellness programs, seniors are often left out of the conversation. But many seniors are obese or engage in less physical activities as they age. It is no surprise then that the most frequently occurring conditions among seniors are linked to hypertension, arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Studies have established the effectiveness of senior wellness programs that improve the overall health through increased physical activity, better nutrition, smoking cessation, and support of other healthy behaviors. They’ve demonstrated reduced inpatient admissions, health care costs, and improved health-related quality of life. With chronic disease and high health care expenditures plaguing our health care system, why not promote a large-scale senior wellness program through a program that directly cares for the group? A Medicare Wellness Program!
U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore) introduced legislation called the Medicare “Better Health Rewards” program, a voluntary program for Medicare beneficiaries to receive incentives if they reach their health care goals. It is a three-year wellness program that uses annual visits, which Medicare already pays for, in order to measure improvements in six areas of health: tobacco usage, body mass index (BMI), diabetes indicators, blood pressure, cholesterol, and vaccinations and screenings. If seniors are improving and achieving their targets, they earn points that translate into financial incentives.
This legislation would be a strong step toward a healthier Medicare population. However, policymakers may wish to consider additional steps to maximize such the impact of this kind of program. Medicare could invest in outreach efforts or adjust program design to encourage a larger the number of seniors who participate. For example, educating all incoming Medicare beneficiaries of the financial gains and increased quality of life resulting from participating could increase the awareness of such a program. Additionally, continuing the program throughout a beneficiary’s time with Medicare could potentially yield greater improvement in health outcomes and achieve additional savings.
Nishi Singhal joined the National Coalition on Health Care as a Paul G. Roger Scholar in the Summer 2012 after graduating with a Masters in Public Health in Health Policy and Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Nishi’s interests lie in chronic disease prevention and its role in reducing health care costs. Nishi enjoys traveling abroad, reading, is learning to garden organically.