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TC50: HealthyWage Pays You To Get In Better Shape

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Healthcare is one of the top social and economic problems facing Americans today, as the rising cost of medical care and health insurance in the United States continues to significantly impact the livelihood of many of its citizens in one way or another.

America spends a dazzling $2.4 trillion annually on healthcare, 75% of which is estimated to go to chronic, largely preventable diseases like obesity, diabetes, smoking-related diseases, sleep disorders, stress and so on.

So what would happen if individuals were offered a financial incentive to improve their health, driving down the immense cost of the system down the line? HealthyWage is launching at TechCrunch50 today a way for people to take ownership over their own health and get rewarded up to $1000 for it in the process.

On the company’s website, people can register and complete a health risk assessment which identifies ways for them to improve their health. The individuals are then supposed to return to the website daily and enter specific data (e.g. what they ate, their activities throughout the day, drug compliance etc.) as part of their participation in a program created by Harvard physicians. After a year of participating in the program, successful consumers can earn up to $1000. Besides the direct financial incentive for them, they’d also be in better shape, which should result in a decline of health expenses over time.

First challenge that is seeing its debut on HealthyWage today: a BMI Challenge, designed to help people lose weight and get rewarded for it if they succeed. Overweight Americans or the companies they work for can put in $200 on the ‘bet’ that they’ll get to a certain BMI (Body Mass Index) and ‘lose’ all that money if it doesn’t pan out. If they achieve the targeted BMI – helped by friends and relatives and even their doctors through the system – they get their money back fivefold.

The company intends to make money not only off the ‘losers’ (people who pay to participate in the program but don’t actually complete the challenge successfully) but also from selling the (anonymous, aggregate) health history and daily health data to drug and food manufacturers, retail companies, healthcare providers, diet companies etc. and by running targeted advertising campaigns from these companies on their website.

This is definitely an intriguing (and potentially controversial) idea, and I can see this really taking off when employers start to see the benefit of offering such challenge programs to their workforce.

Expert panel Q&A:

Q – Tony Hsieh: I would do this at Zappos, we see healthcare costs rising. You may want to figure out how to separate the incentive from the need to logging in on a daily basis.

A: we’re open to ideas on how to reward people, cash or other prizes. The big idea is getting people in the habit of being mindful about their health, we tailor tips etc. It’s about wellness.

Q – Marc Andreessen: how do you translate it to a company’s bottom line?

A: A 20% or 30% decline based on our data.

Q – Marc Andreessen: do you have a sense of how much money is required to get people motivated to change their lifestyle?

A: Small amounts of money works, but it’s more about the support, the acknowledgement of the money.

Q: Why wait a whole year to pay people?

A: A year forced it to be a lifestyle change and not a short-term thing. We want to build a foundation, lead people to change their behavior long-term and keep their motviated.

Q – Marissa Mayer: I’m skeptic. There are tools for people who are already motivated, what’s to stop Weight Watchers for offering the same service?

A: their business model is different, focused on consumers, while we focus on companies/employers. In terms of addressable market, there’s a lot of room in the U.S. and incentives work. A program this comprehensive is unique in our view, and we’re confident people will embrace it.

Q – Roelof Botha: Mind that foreign health insurance companies are already implementing similar programs.

A: The U.S. is different, consumers are hesitant to participate if the program goes out from the health insurance companies, even if lower premiums are the incentive.

Video:

http://www.ustream.tv/flash/video/2163142

Pictures:

Extra coverage:
TC50: HealthyWage lets companies incentivize employees to stay fit VentureBeat.
HealthyWage.com Pays You To Be Healthy (TechCrunch50) SheBlogs.
TechCrunch50: HealthyWage Pays You to Stay Healthy Trends Updates.
HealthyWage Startup Generation.
HealthyWage Rewards You For Being Fit Pulse2.
HealthyWage Wants To Pay You To Get Fit #tc50 Techgeist.

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