Startup Founders Push Healthy Behavior With Cash Incentives

Would you pay your employees cash to stay healthy? Charlie Zei and Dr. Greg Vachon, co-founders of PUSH for Wellness, think you should.

Both Zei and Vachon are medical professionals who worked for Northwestern before co-founding PUSH for Wellness. Zei was an project manager at the Fienberg School of Medicine, and Vachon a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

PUSH for Wellness is an employee incentive program that involves monthly health assessments and cash payments for improved behavior. The program focuses on five areas of health: weight loss, blood pressure, cholesterol, fitness and smoking. The PUSH program is designed to incentivize better behavior in these five areas in order to prevent potentially fatal health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Zei says that The PUSH program is also fair in that all employees can earn the cash incentives regardless whether they are in good health.

“Whether they are a triathlete or a couch potato,” says Zei, “everyone can earn as long as they make the changes they need to make to improve their outcomes.”

The founders say that one of biggest benefits PUSH for Wellness brings lies in the data they collect over the course of the wellness program; data on health outcomes and risk behavior can be used to negotiate lower healthcare premiums.

According to the Healthcare Cost Institute — a nonprofit organization with access to roughly 6 billion commercial health insurance claims through Aetna, Humana, Kaiser Permanente, and UnitedHealthcare — employer sponsored insurance was, on average, $4,547 per capita in 2011. This cost, combined with a looming federal mandate that employers with 50 or more employees, provides health insurance coverage are two reasons wellness data is useful to employers.

Knowing how healthy your employees are, and how likely they are to remain healthy, may allow you to negotiate your premiums. The federal mandate won’t go into effect until 2015, but Zei and Vachon say there are benefits to investing in employees health now and there are benefits independent from the Affordable Care Act. For example, healthy employees are more engaged and more productive, according to Zei.

“A lot of employers haven’t had a wellness program at their company but they’re beginning to come around and embrace the idea of wellness, not only is it a healthcare benefit but it is a total rewards benefit that can be part of a compensation package that they offer employees.”

Zei and Vachon co-founded Push for Wellness at Healthbox, a startup accelerator for entrepreneurs with health related companies. It was at Healthbox that Zei and Vachon created their model for disrupting healthcare by bringing preventative care to the workplace and incentivizing healthy behaviors with cash.  Unlike most startup accelerators, the Healthbox startup accelerator is centered on the idea that startup companies can help change the healthcare industry for the better.

“It wasn’t the technology it was the opportunity to change people’s lives in a new and innovative way,” says Zei. “The fact that we are able to impact behaviors in the most direct, fair way possible through cash incentives appeals to me.”

PUSH for Wellness, currently operating in Chicago, is looking for new clients. ❒

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