Walmart Rolls Out Eat-Healthy Insurance Discount

Discussion
Sep 20, 2012

In the first such program between a major retailer and an insurance company, Walmart is partnering with Humana to offer discounts for choosing healthier and more-nutritious foods.

After accepting HumanaVitality’s terms and taking a health assessment, members will receive their ‘Vitality HealthyFood’ card offering a five percent discount on products featuring the ‘Great for You’ icon at Walmart. Foods under the program include fresh fruits, vegetables, chicken and low-fat dairy and low sodium soups. The program for HumanaVitality’s more than 1 million members begins Oct. 15.

In a statement, Walmart noted that recent research found one in four families report skipping healthy purchases often or always, due to price.

"Price is an important factor in incentivizing wellness in America," said John Agwunobi, M.D., president of health and wellness, Walmart U.S. "By offering affordable, healthier foods, we will help make our customers healthier and reduce costs to our healthcare system as a whole. This represents preventative care in its purest form."

Launched in July 2011, HumanaVitality is a "wellness rewards program." Humana insurance members in the program earn ‘Vitality Points’ for activities such as in-range biometrics results, preventive screenings, health education courses, verified fitness activities and weight loss. The points can be redeemed for a wide range of items including movie tickets, music downloads, electronics and hotel stays.

The Washington Post said wellness programs have become a mainstay of large employers’ insurance plans in recent years, although it’s not known if any offer financial incentives to purchase healthier groceries.

In a recent survey of HumanaVitality members, 84 percent indicated that a savings program would motivate them to purchase healthier foods. The Vitality HealthyFood program will be aggressively communicated to more than 600,000 hospitals and physicians, as well as 60,000 insurance brokers.

The program builds on Walmart’s initiative last year with First Lady Michelle Obama to reformulate its packaged food to lower sugar, salt and fat, and lower prices on fruits and vegetables. In February 2012, it introduced its ‘Great For You’ icon.

The "hope is that others are inspired by this work, candidly – other retailers; other healthcare companies," Mr. Agwunobi said of the Vitality HealthyFood program Wednesday on a conference call, according to Drug Store News. "My hope is it becomes a new way of doing business, a new way of helping the customer."

Joe Woods, CEO of HumanaVitality, said HumanaVitality’s large member base provides "lot of opportunities to collect data and to understand how this is moving the needle or changing behaviors of individual shopping experiences."

Should insurance companies help incentivize healthy eating? Is there a downside for Walmart and retailers in general? What else could be added to such  programs to increase their effectiveness?

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8 Comments on "Walmart Rolls Out Eat-Healthy Insurance Discount"

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Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Insurance companies should offer incentives for healthy eating. Humana plans to track the results to see if the offer has an impact on their customers’ lives and insurance claims, so there is an ROI component.

This also is a big win for Walmart’s grocery business. WM took the time to identify healthy foods and now that effort is literally paying off for them. WM must stay true to the program to make certain that all participating foods meet healthy standards.

If this program causes Humana customers to eat better foods, and thereby improve their overall health, it will be a big win for those customers, Humana and Walmart.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
Of course insurance companies should incentivize healthy eating, exercise and even public health initiatives such as public smoking bans. The fly in the ointment however is enforcement. One could, for example, trip down to Walmart, load up on, “Great For You,” foods, toddle home and then chug down twelve beers, a pint of Jack Daniels, all while puffing away non-stop on the highest tar and nicotine cigarettes available and stuffing your face with deep fried Twinkees. Incentivizing healthy grocery purchases is a step toward improved health, but only one step. The downside for retailers is twofold. First, what happens when one or more of those, “Great For You,” products are found — for one reason or another — to be, well, not so great for you? Secondly, what does labeling some products as, “great,” for you say about all the other products you sell that don’t carry that label? Are they not bad for you, so-so for you or terrible for you? Finally, as to what else can be done, insurance companies need to tie back to family physicians who can actually monitor whether or not an individual’s health is improving based on things like blood sugar levels, blood pressure… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

With only a 5% discount on what is probably premium priced food, I doubt there will be much of an impact. This appears to be only a lateral move at best. Sure it will get a few consumers eating somewhat healthier food, but I doubt it will have much impact. Insurance companies should focus more on giving people with healthy vitals discounts rather than micro manage with diet.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Incentivizing healthy eating is a much better approach than New York’s attempted regulation of one soda ingredient. This very well may be a win-win-win scenario for consumers, Walmart, and HumanaVitality.

It’s a universal belief that preventative health care is the most efficient way to reduce healthcare costs. If the discounted foods really are healthier (a can of worms issue…) then shoppers may be ill less or less seriously, medical coverage costs go down, and Walmart sells more product and becomes a trusted source for “healthy food.” As long as it’s optional, effortless, reasonable, and there’s no hidden gotcha’s or extreme requirements, there’s unlikely much downside.

Other retailer’s and brands can take a cue from this and find ways to promote lifestyle and food products that promote “healthier living” in incentivized ways.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

It is wise for insurance companies to promote healthy eating, and if incentives such as redemption points work, it is a win-win situation; consumers benefit from rewards and the insurance companies benefit with lower costs through the improvement of healthy eating habits. The downside for retailers would be hiring and training in-store personnel to organize and manage such a program. Adding in-store interaction with dietitians to educate consumers on smarter, healthier purchasing habits could be a great combination for consumers, retailers and insurance companies.

Bill Clarke
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

It is perhaps worth noting that the only items that carry the “Great For You” label are — aside from produce — Walmart’s own private-label products. So the incentive is not only to purchase HEALTHY food, but to purchase WALMART’S food. That’s certainly a win for Walmart.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

It’s a very good idea for everyone and anyone to promote healthy living/eating. And I don’t mean just from a marketing/PR perspective. I just read where, at the current rate, over 50% of the people in Ohio will be obese by 2030. The number is not as high nationally, but close. That’s a macro problem for a lot of reasons including my own health care costs.

Also, it’ll be hard to maintain a semblance of national pride when you’re the fattest country on earth, don’t you think? I don’t know, maybe we don’t care anymore.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
4 years 10 months ago

Ryan’s mention of enforcement for this program caught my eye because one of our companies sells a fairly expensive program that offers a money-back guarantee, but which has no way to make sure clients use the products and processes according to directions. We have to take their word for it.

However, I was intrigued by the mention of HumanaVitality’s rewards for “activities such as in-range biometrics results, preventive screenings, health education courses, verified fitness activities, and weight loss.” Participants can earn Vitality Points and Vitality Bucks. That, it seems, would be the enforcement part of Walmart’s program. But now I’m wondering how this is done and how it’s paid for.

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