My employer offers group health insurance through Medica, and our benefits coordinator recently announced a new program that Medica is rolling out. It’s called the Healthy Savings Program and it was described as a rebate for buying healthy groceries. A few grocery chains in the region are participating, and the way it works is that for certain healthy purchases you make, you get an instant rebate (basically like a coupon) at the register. It sounds like a really good idea to me.
Even though I’m not on Medica health insurance, I was intrigued by the idea, and decided to learn more about it. I envisioned a program where you got cash back for buying things like fresh and frozen vegetables, as well as low-fat proteins. In my mind, the groceries that would merit a rebate would be whole, unprocessed foods that are healthiest for you. Upon looking at their website, I was entirely disappointed, and eventually disgusted.
The products you must purchase to earn a rebate vary from week to week, and the website boasts an available savings per week. This week it’s $39.80. To save that much money, you have to buy every single product listed this week. And to actually save money, you’d have to be planning to get those items anyway. If this leads you to buy something you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, it’s not a cost savings, it’s just marketing. However, that wasn’t the part that bothered me. What got me was that the foods listed were processed foods containing artificial ingredients. The list included Sparkling Ice (an artifically sweetened beverage containing 3% juice), MiO (an artificially flavored, sweetened and colored syrup to add to water), crackers, canned tomatoes, and whey protein. These foods don’t scream “healthy” to me. If anything, they announce it in a sleazy sales pitch, designed to confuse people into making poor choices.
I’ll have to keep my eye on the products to see if they improve over time. This is a very new program, so it’s possible they need to keep working to build relationships with better vendors, but for now, the “healthy” savings plan seems to be nothing more than a coupon and marketing campaign aimed at Medica customers. In exchange for paying high premiums for medical insurance, you get the added benefit of being subjected to an advertising campaign, which I have no doubt has direct financial benefits for Medica, and then calling the whole thing healthy.
What I would like to see from an insurance company (or the government, schools, employers, health care providers… anyone with a stake in the health of the nation), would be a program that teaches consumers how to identify and prepare healthy, whole foods. I know too many people who think they’re making a healthy choice when they grab something zero calories and zero fat, even though it is manufactured in a chemical plant, and full of artificial ingredients, and likely contains no nutrients whatsoever. These same people complain that they have a hard time losing weight, have aches and pains, or digestive issues, because they have been sold the idea that thin = healthy, and fat-free, calorie-free food are the way to get thin. I find it recklessly irresponsible of a company that people look to for information on health and wellness to encourage people to eat garbage so they can make more money.