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People prefer 'carrots' to 'sticks' when it comes to healthcare incentives
Date:6/26/2013

To keep costs low, companies often incentivize healthy lifestyles. Now, new research suggests that how these incentives are framed as benefits for healthy-weight people or penalties for overweight people makes a big difference.

The research, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, shows that policies that carry higher premiums for overweight individuals are perceived as punishing and stigmatizing.

Researcher David Tannenbaum of the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles wanted to investigate how framing healthcare incentives might influence people's attitudes toward the incentives.

"Two frames that are logically equivalent can communicate qualitatively different messages," Tannenbaum explains.

In the first study, 126 participants read about a fictional company grappling with managing their employee health-care policy. They were told that the company was facing rising healthcare costs, due in part to an increasing percentage of overweight employees, and were shown one of four final policy decisions.

The "carrot" plan gave a $500 premium reduction to healthy-weight people, while the "stick" plan increased premiums for overweight people by $500. The two plans were functionally equivalent, structured such that healthy-weight employees always paid $2000 per year in healthcare costs, and overweight employees always paid $2500 per year in healthcare costs.

There were also two additional "stick" plans that resulted in a $2400 premium for overweight people.

Participants were more likely to see the "stick" plans as punishment for being overweight and were less likely to endorse them.

But they didn't appear to differentiate between the three "stick" plans despite the $100 premium difference. Instead, they seemed to evaluate the plans on moral grounds, deciding that punishing someone for being overweight
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Contact: Anna Mikulak
amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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