Senators propose Medicare program modeled after hospital initiative

Program would reward seniors for meeting health goals

A pair of senators last week introduced a bill that would offer Medicare beneficiaries cash rewards for meeting certain health metrics.

Under the voluntary Better Health Rewards program—which was proposed by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)—seniors could accumulate points for smoking cessation, weight loss, or controlling conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Patients would set personal goals with their physicians and earn points—and possibly cash bonuses of up to $400—after checkups.

Although Medicare spends $3.8 billion annually on wellness exams for beneficiaries, many patients leave exams "without a game plan," Wyden said. "By focusing on health indicators that contribute to chronic and debilitating health problems…and giving seniors the tools they need to make changes and stay motivated, seniors and the entire Medicare program can live healthier, longer lives."

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, some private companies, including Cleveland Clinic, have used similar programs to improve employee wellness. For example, the Clinic saved $15 million in 2011 by reducing hospital admissions among its employees with chronic conditions.

"Transforming the delivery of health care in this nation from 'sick' care to 'health' care takes commitment," said Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove. "Focusing on healthy behaviors will go a long way toward creating a healthier nation" (Koff, Plain Dealer, 3/29; Wyden release, 3/28).

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