Three-year randomized trial shows wellness programs can be effective for Medicare population

StayWell Newsletter

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a report in 2014 that was the result of a landmark, three-year study in which StayWell had the opportunity to participate. Called the Senior Risk Reduction Demonstration (SRRD), the study demonstrated that wellness programs can effectively help Medicare recipients reduce their health risks, and can do so without increasing total health care spending.

StayWell was one of only five wellness vendors chosen to participate in the demonstration, which was the first randomized trial ever undertaken to determine the effectiveness of a wellness program in the Medicare population. This “gold standard” research design best assures that the results reflect the true impact of the program.

StayWell had past experience providing wellness services to retiree groups, so we were confident we could engage the Medicare population. This history, along with our belief that wellness can have a positive impact on the health of our nation, led StayWell to participate in this demonstration. We believe the health of the Medicare population—and related health care outcomes—could be substantially improved by integrating wellness into the care delivery system, and this project was a key first step in testing that belief.

The Medicare SRRD was launched in 2009 by CMS and was successful in showing that an existing (off-the-shelf) commercial wellness program originally designed for employee populations can accomplish the following for the Medicare population:

  • Engage people in improving their health,
  • Improve the health of the Medicare population as a whole, and
  • Achieve this health improvement at a budget-neutral level or better.

Each wellness vendor participating in the SRRD received names and contact information for 20,000 Medicare enrollees. Enrollees were segmented into three groups on a random basis. Because of the randomization process needed for the evaluation research, StayWell and other participating wellness vendors were tasked with initially engaging Medicare participants without being able to provide information about the features or benefits of the program. Based on the group individuals were randomly assigned to, they received the following over the course of three years:

  • Group 1 — Standard, off-the shelf wellness program, not customized for the Medicare audience
  • Group 2 — Vendor could enhance the program as they saw fit to better meet the needs of the Medicare audience
  • Group 3 — Control group provided no outreach or intervention from the wellness vendor. These individuals completed a health assessment questionnaire annually but did not receive results or follow-up wellness programs as would normally be the case.

Results of this first demonstration project on the three goals set by CMS were as follows:

  • Medicare recipients were engaged successfully, with participation in the wellness program on par with levels in an employee population with a comparable program design.
  • Health risks of participants improved significantly in the areas of alcohol use, back care, nutrition, physical activity, stress, and depression, indicating that a wellness program designed for use with employees can also be effective in improving the health and well-being of the Medicare population.
  • The budget neutrality goal was achieved, based on claims-based cost trend analysis that found no net increase in costs to Medicare after accounting for the cost of the wellness program.

To learn more about this study and what it means for your retiree population, please contact us at engage@staywell.com.