Aetna wellness programs available for purchase on Best Buy shelves

The insurer hopes customers buying pedometers, fitness DVDs or electronic scales also will be willing to pay for access to a health coaching program.

By — Posted Jan. 19, 2012

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Aetna is aiming to sell its wellness benefits to Best Buy customers searching for tools to help them keep their New Year's resolutions.

The Hartford, Conn.-based health plan is selling credit-card-size vouchers at Chicago-area Best Buy stores, redeemable for access to online coaching programs. The pilot program stemmed from Aetna's interest in trying out retail sales of its wellness program and from Best Buy's launch of health and fitness sections in select stores in late 2011

The idea is that a customer buying a food scale, for example, might be open to a weight-loss program, said Brooke Wilson, head of work-life services for Aetna.

"They were thinking about the overall marketing of their well-being products, and the idea gelled together the things we could provide and needs they had," she said.

Four "modules" are available at the Best Buy stores: stress management, fitness, smoking cessation and weight loss. For $19.99, the buyer gets three months of access to the online program, the same one available to members of Aetna's Employee Assistance Program.

Aetna is not alone among health insurance companies in experimenting with a retail approach to selling its products. The individual coverage requirement that takes effect in 2014 and the decline in employer-sponsored health insurance have pushed insurers to sell to customers one at a time, rather than to their bosses.

Most of that retail movement, however, has involved entire stores branded around one insurer, rather than a physical product sitting on the shelves of a big-box retailer.

The "retailization" of health benefits also gives Aetna a chance to sell programs that are available to many people at work but often go unused.

Typically, only 10% to 15% of employees access an EAP, despite assurances of privacy and the sometimes substantial resources available to help with such things as smoking cessation and managing household finances, said Louise Murphy, president of behavioral health for Aetna.

"It's a great program. There's so much available to people [through the EAP]," she said. "It's been traditionally more of a reactive service, so we thought, 'How can we, one, make it more proactive, and two, in a world in which consumers are going to have much more direct involvement with their well-being, how do we make this an acceptable program? How do we get it down to the consumer level?' "

Depending how the pilot goes, Aetna could consider selling insurance coverage the same way, Murphy said.

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