Older, Wiser — and Healthier

By Rhett Woods | October 24, 2016 | Rally Health

Growing up, my favorite movies were the original Star Wars trilogy (which my kids insist on calling “Episodes IV, V, and VI”). I badly wanted to be Luke Skywalker, the normal, rebellious teenager who actually manages to escape his uncle’s boring farm and have the most epic adventure imaginable.

Well, that rebellious teenager has grown up — or at least Mark Hamill, the actor who played Luke, sure has. Hamill just celebrated his 65th birthday, meaning he’s now old enough to receive Medicare benefits.

I know: Whoa. Luke Skywalker is 65? If that makes you feel old, you’re not alone. The country’s aging population is growing fast and that presents unique challenges, both in terms of increasing health costs and more strain on health systems. As of 2014, more than 46 million Americans were 65 or older, accounting for 14.5 percent of the population. That number is expected to grow to nearly 22 percent by 2040. With that in mind, it’s crucial to engage older Americans with the idea of wellness, and even more important, keep them engaged.

Most Americans 65 and over qualify for Medicare, a federal health insurance program. This group tends to have more health issues and lower incomes than the general population. By focusing on preventive care, Medicare patients could help improve their health and get sick less often, thus potentially reducing strain on an already overburdened system. This could be as simple as getting regular exercise, cutting back on alcohol or tobacco, or eating a healthier diet.

There’s a growing body of research that shows between a $2 and $10 return for every dollar invested in certain wellness solutions. But for the most part, Medicare patients have not been encouraged to pursue preventive care. Rather, Medicare has functioned simply as a method of paying for care when an older person becomes sick or injured.

“Medicare has not historically offered much in the way of wellness services,” says Erin Taylor, PhD, a Medicare policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. “With the passage of the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003, there was a movement towards more preventive approaches to care, for example by providing access to prescriptions that could help prevent other, more serious conditions later on. However, I don’t think this could be described as a systematic approach to wellness.”

Taylor adds, “I think the lack of wellness offerings is a function of the history of the program. Medicare was originally intended as an insurance program for the elderly and disabled that would cover hospital and physician bills for those who simply did not have access to other types of insurance.”

With this in mind, Rally is making some tweaks to our wellness platform to engage the Medicare population. We’re offering health incentives in a way that not only makes sense for older people but is also in line with guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) . Our hope is that through the kind of small changes that we promote, we can have an impact on chronic health issues that are a particular concern for older people. For example, we could help people improve their fitness by giving them incentives to walk every day. Or, by helping educate older people about nutrition and offering easy-to-follow guidelines, we can help our users manage their health, potentially including conditions like diabetes and heart disease, which have an enormous impact both on people’s health and their health care costs.

Here are some specific ways Rally will be adapting our wellness offerings to an older population.

As part of our Rewards program, we’re offering users the opportunity to exchange Rally Coins — our virtual coins — for exclusive health- and wellness-related rewards. Right now, Medicare enrollees who use our platform have a chance to win tangible items, and there’s more to come. We’re working on several partnerships with companies that will offer coupons that Medicare users can redeem, which we hope to announce later this year.

We’ve also created a new feature called Auctions, which is basically a way for folks to bid their Rally Coins on certain rewards. In this system, the highest bidder wins the reward, and the people who don’t win still get to keep their coins and can use them again, unlike in a standard sweepstakes-type offering. That helps us stay consistent with CMS’ guidelines.

We anticipate our Medicare offering is going to be really successful, especially as Baby Boomers age into the retired population, since Boomers are often more comfortable with computers and mobile devices than previous generations of retirees. Which brings up an important point: It’s particularly challenging to design solutions for a population that has such a wide range of experience with technology and online interactions. You have to continually check to make sure your product isn’t serving only the more tech-savvy segments of your population, while ignoring the rest.

We’re ready meet this challenge. Rally has a terrific track record on engagement, both on its own and in comparison to the health care industry in general. I’m really excited about engaging the Medicare and aging populations and seeing the results. I think we’re just scratching the surface of what we can achieve — right here in this galaxy, without any Jedi mind tricks.

Rhett Woods is Chief Creative Officer at Rally Health.

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Staff at Rally Health
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