The Association Between Medical Costs and Participation in the Vitality Health Promotion Program Among 948,974 Members of a South African Health Insurance Company


Purpose. Examine the association between the levels of participation in an incentive-based health promotion program (Vitality) and inpatient medical claims among members of a major health insurer.

Design. A 1-year, cross-sectional, correlational analyses of engagement with a health promotion program and hospital claims experience (admissions costs, days in hospital, and admission rate) of members of a national private health insurer.

Setting. Adult members of South Africa’s largest national private health insurer, Discovery Health. Insured members were also eligible for voluntary membership in an insurance-linked incentivized health promotion program, Vitality.

Subjects. The study sample included 948,974 adult members of the Discovery Health plan for the year 2006. Of these, 591,134 (62.3%) were also members of the Vitality health promotion program.

Measures. The study sample was grouped based on registration and the level of engagement with the Vitality health promotion program into the following: not registered (37.5%), registered but not engaged with any health promotion activity (21.9%), low engagement (30.9%), and high engagement (9.5%). High engagement was defined a priori by the accumulation of an arbitrary number of points on the Vitality program, allocated against specific activities (knowledge, fitness-related activities, assessment and screening, and healthy choices). Hospital admission costs, the number of days in hospital, and hospital admission rates were compared among highly engaged members and those members who were not enrolled in the program, nonengaged, and lowly engaged. Data were normalized for age, gender, plan type, and chronic disease status.

Results. Highly engaged members had lower costs per patient, shorter stays in hospital, and fewer admissions compared with other groups (p < .001). Low or no engagement was not associated with lower hospital costs. Admission rates were also 7.4% lower for cardiovascular disease, 13.2% lower for cancers, and 20.7% lower for endocrine and metabolic diseases in the highly engaged group compared with any of the other groups (p < .01).

Conclusions. Engagement in an incentive-based wellness program, offered by a health insurer, was associated with lower health care costs.

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