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Fun and games with health insurance Posted: July 22nd, 2013

By Beth Orenstein

Beth Orenstein is a freelance writer from Northampton, Pa. A graduate of Tufts University, she covers health and insurance topics.

If health care were more fun, would more people take better care of themselves?

Two health insurance companies think so.

One, Aetna of Hartford, Conn., has launched a new mobile app that encourages friends and family members to get and stay healthy by sharing challenges, status updates and photos of their healthy achievements.

The other, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota in Egan, Minn., is turning to games to educate subscribers and help control their health insurance costs.

App counts on "sharing" to encourage healthy habits

The app is "WellWithMe" and is available for smartphones. The idea behind the app is that people are more likely to stick with good eating habits or daily exercise if they have a buddy to share their experiences and successes with, Karen Weinseiss, Aetna International's senior vice president of International Health Care Management, said in a press release.

WellWithMe lets you invite others to join you in three healthy activities every day from each of three categories: move, eat and grow.

An activity under move might be "take the stairs rather than the elevator." Eat activities include choosing different colored fruits or having salad for lunch. Examples of grow activities include reading for 30 minutes and making eye contact with others.

You can invite others through their Facebook accounts, get points for activities completed, and share your photos and achievements.

Gamification helps teach how benefits work

During open enrollment period, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota will offer members a chance to educate themselves on health care and health insurance with videos, quizzes and games.

By taking quizzes and playing games, subscribers can learn how their benefits work and how to make value-based health-care decisions, the insurer said in a press release. Users can accumulate points and get badges. A leader board is available for everyone to see.

The program, called Healthcare University, was developed by Change Heathcare Corp. in Brentwood, Tenn. It offers courses that cover health insurance basics, benefits selection, billing and ways to save.

In testing the program with its own employees, the insurer hoped 20 percent of its workforce would sign up, but enrollment exceeded the goal by more than 90 percent. Each user completed an average of eight courses. In a user satisfaction survey, employees gave the platform an A-.

Benefits education critical thanks to healthcare reform

The Blues plan decided to offer the program to its subscribers because the pilot was so successful.

Clayton Nicholas, vice president of strategy and marketing of Change Healthcare, said as health care reform takes effect and more people get insurance from public and private exchanges, it is even more important that insurers provide benefits education to consumers.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota "is staying on the forefront in driving increased employee engagement as a way to control costs," he said in a press statement.