EBRI Issue Brief

Financial Incentives, Workplace Wellness Program Participation, and Utilization of Health Care Services and Spending

Aug 26, 2015 24  pages


  • This paper analyzes data from a large employer that enhanced financial incentives to encourage participation in its workplace wellness programs. It examines, first, the effect of financial incentives on wellness program participation, and second, it estimates the impact of wellness program participation on utilization of health care services and spending.
  • The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) allows employers to provide financial incentives of as much as 30 percent of the total cost of coverage when tied to participation in a wellness program.
  • Participation in health risk assessments (HRAs) increased by 50 percentage points among members of unions that bargained in the incentive, and increased 22 percentage points among non-union employees.
  • Participation in the biometric screening program increased 55 percentage points when financial incentives were provided.
  • Biometric screenings led to an average increase of 0.31 annual prescription drug fills, with related spending higher by $56 per member per year. Otherwise, no significant effects of participation in HRAs or biometric screenings on utilization of health care services and spending were found.
  • The largest increase in medication utilization as a result of biometric screening was for statins, which are widely used to treat high cholesterol. This therapeutic class accounted for one-sixth of the overall increase in prescription drug utilization. Second were antidepressants, followed by ACE inhibitors (for hypertension), and thyroid hormones (for hypothyroidism).
  • Biometric screening also led to significantly higher utilization of biologic response modifiers and immunosuppressants. These specialty medications are used to treat autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, and are relatively expensive compared with non-specialty medications. The added spending associated with the combined increase in fills of 0.02 was $27 per member per year—about one-half of the overall increase in prescription drug spending from those who participated in biometric screenings.