Raising premiums and cutting benefits aren’t the only ways to deal with the growing cost of Medicare, but keeping seniors healthy could save the program billions, according to two senators who recently introduced legislation for some preventive incentives.
The legislation is for a voluntary Medicare “Better Health Rewards” program, designed to help participating Medicare beneficiaries get healthy—and stay that way—by accomplishing “achievable goals, a plan to reach them and incentive to keep motivated.”
It’s the first proposal to offer financial rewards for reaching health care goals, according to co-sponsor Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). These rewards will be paid by savings generated from seniors getting healthy and using less health care services; seniors who earn 20 or more points in the program will be eligible for a “Better Health Reward.”
“The Better Health Rewards program builds on the notion that the best health care costs the least because it keeps you healthy,” Wyden said. “By focusing on health indicators that contribute to chronic and debilitating health problems—like smoking, body mass index, diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol—and giving seniors the tools they need to make changes and stay motivated, seniors and the entire Medicare program can live healthier, longer lives. Because the reality is healthier seniors use less health care.”
“With Medicare on a fiscally unsustainable path, Washington should support innovative, cost-effective solutions that save and strengthen it,” said co-sponsor Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “The Better Health Rewards Bill is good policy because it will likely reduce Medicare costs in the long run by rewarding beneficiaries who improve their health. I’m glad it has the support of well renowned medical organizations such as the Cleveland Clinic and hope the Senate will take it up for consideration.”
The three-year program will use the annual wellness visit already funded by Medicare to ascertain and measure improvements in six key areas of health: tobacco usage, body mass index, diabetes indicators, blood pressure, cholesterol, and up-to-date vaccinations and screenings—all areas identified as leading predictors of future health challenges. Subsequent wellness visits in the following two years would measure progress at achieving or maintaining goals.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will calculate program savings by deducting the actual cost of seniors enrolled in the program, to the total projected costs of those participating were they not to be in the program.
“Transforming the delivery of healthcare in this nation from ‘sick’ care to ‘health’ care takes commitment. We need to reduce the burden of chronic disease in the U.S., which accounts for 40 percent of premature deaths,” said Toby M. Cosgrove, M.D., President and Chief Executive Officer at the Cleveland Clinic, which joined the senators in introducing the program. “Focusing on healthy behaviors will go a long way toward creating a healthier nation.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace