Medicare Advantage plans that include fitness benefits such as gym memberships attract significantly healthier enrollees who are also less expensive to cover, according to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine.
"It makes sense. The people who would value fitness memberships would be healthier and have fewer functional limitations," says Amal N. Trivedi, co-author of the study, Fitness Membership and Favorable Selection in Medicare Advantage Plans. "And that group of seniors that participates in fitness programs has lower health expenses."
The study examined 11 Medicare Advantage plans that offered fitness club memberships against a control group of 11 Medicare Advantage plans that did not offer the benefit. Researchers compiled data from 2002 through 2008 and compared the self-reported health status of the people enrolled in one of the plans before the gym membership was offered, with the self-reported health status of people who enrolled after the benefit was offered.
The proportion of enrollees who reported that they were in excellent or very good health was 6.1 percentage points higher among the 755 new enrollees in plans that added fitness benefits than it was among the 4,097 people who enrolled before the benefit was included, the study found.
Conversely, the proportion of new enrollees who reported physical activity limitations was 10.4 percentage points lower, while the proportion of enrollees who reported problems walking was 8.1 percentage points lower, when compared with the earlier enrollees, the study found.