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Humana partners with Wal-Mart to offer discounts on healthy foods

Physicians caring for patients insured by Humana soon will be encouraged to tell them that they can get a discount on healthy foods sold at Wal-Mart stores.

Starting Oct. 15, members participating in the HumanaVitality wellness program will be eligible for a 5% rebate on foods that qualify for Wal-Mart’s “Great for You” labeling initiative. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean meats are among the 1,300 products available.

Members must register on the program’s website and take a health assessment. A gift card is then sent to them. The 5% rebate from purchasing healthy food is deposited on the card. Participants can use the money to buy anything sold by Wal-Mart.

Information about the program will be included in regular communication from Humana to physicians, who will be asked to tell patients about the effort.

“We know physicians have close relationships with many of our members and that relationship is trusted,” said Joe Woods, CEO of HumanaVitality, a Humana subsidiary. “We want to let physicians know this program is available for their patients.”

Health insurers and employers have long sought ways to make it easier for people to eat healthier because obesity has been linked to higher health costs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 33% of U.S. adults are overweight and 36% are obese. Six percent are extremely obese.

Some insurers mail select patients coupons for healthier food. Others, through a foundation arm, support organizations working to make healthier food more widely available in communities with few good grocery stores. The Humana/Wal-Mart arrangement is believed to be the first program of its kind between a national insurer and a large retailer.

A HumanaVitality survey found 84% of HumanaVitality members said a savings program would motivate them to purchase healthier foods. Other studies have suggested that lowering the price on these foods makes consumers more likely to buy them. But research does not say whether such incentives will lead to patients losing pounds or maintaining a healthy weight.

“It’s an intriguing program,” said Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “What’s going to be difficult is to assess the impact. I doubt they will have any clean measure of what people are doing now and what they do with the rebate.”

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