Aetna Starts Reimbursement Program — Giving Workers Cash Back For Exercising

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In an ongoing effort by health insurers to get customers to live healthier lives, Aetna Inc. this week announced a new reimbursement program to reduce the price of gym memberships, exercise equipment and other health aids.

For example, a person could get cash back after buying a treadmill or signing up to go to the gym, provided that person has both Aetna as a health insurer and an employer that agrees to pay to reimburse a portion of exercise expenses. Aetna’s Fitness Reimbursement Program is a collaboration with GlobalFit, which owns gyms and exercise programs.

Aetna has had an affiliation for more than a decade with GlobalFit, which allowed the insurer’s customers to get a discount on memberships to GlobalFit gyms, such as some Gold’s Gyms, Healthtrax Fitness & Wellness, Curves and other facilities. In some cases, a worker might be able to get both a discount and a reimbursement, if the employer offers both.

“The employer is funding the actual payment, or the actual dollar amount, and then Aetna is helping to bring that program and support that,” said Paul Coppola, head of Wellness Program Strategy and Development at Aetna.

“As part of the program, we’re providing them with some guidance around what’s really eligible for reimbursement,” Coppola said of fitness equipment. Reimbursement might apply to gym memberships, group exercise classes, personal training, fitness equipment purchases, weight management and nutrition counseling services.

The reimbursement program will be available Jan. 1. Aetna is trying to get employers interested with the goal of having a healthier workforce. It will be offered to both employers who are self-insured, meaning the employer pays all the medical bills and charges workers a premium, and fully-insured health plans, in which Aetna pays the medical bills and collects premiums.

Other health insurers have offered discount programs for years. For example, Cigna Corp. has a Healthy Rewards program since 2001 that allows discounts of up to 40 percent on health and wellness products, including gym memberships, said Cigna spokesman Mark Slitt. The Cigna program does not offer a reimbursement.

UnitedHealth Group, parent of UnitedHealthcare, has both discount plans and partial reimbursement plans on monthly gym memberships and a variety of health and fitness programs, including Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, said UnitedHealthcare spokesman Daryl Richard.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Connecticut also has a health and wellness program that reimburses customers for a portion of their gym expenses, said company spokeswoman Sarah Yeager. Additionally, Anthem reimburses a customer who declares herself or himself “tobacco free.”

About Matthew Sturdevant

Full-time staff journalist at The Hartford Courant and magazine freelancer with a master's degree in writing from Dartmouth. My work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Taiwan News, The Baltimore Sun and many other news sources. My blog has been referenced by, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Georgetown Law Library and a number of organizations in healthcare and business. Sturdevant’s blog is "a well-written wealth of ideas," said The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, (, May 18, 2011). I have experience writing for newspapers, magazines, Web sites and blogs as well as shooting and editing video. I made regular appearances on news-talk radio and on the NBC affiliate station in Corpus Christi, Texas. I made occasional appearances on the Fox affiliate in Connecticut promoting Hartford Courant articles.

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