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md12I will leave it to the experts to determine whether we were the dumbest or the smartest to be the first to see healthcare incentives as a critical tool to address healthcare costs. Either way, we were the first – going back to 1998 when we founded IncentOne.   I like to say, “we have seen more and screwed up more about healthcare incentives than anyone ever will.”But this was all by accident. It was 1996 and I was working as a corporate lawyer at a prominent NY law firm. My brother Dan was shopping and spent several frustrated hours trying to buy $500 in gift certificates at a national retailer. He called me to commiserate,  “Why isn’t there a 1-800-FLOWERS for gift certificates?” It was midnight on Friday and I was still working and affectionately suggested he call Mom.

But when I hung up the phone I remained curious. I tapped into the old Lexis/Nexis terminals used at law firms at the time (pre-Internet) and looked into the gift certificate and then the incentive industry. The incentive industry consisted of travel packages and logoed golf balls – little technology, little data, and little analytics. IncentOne was born. In 1998, I left the law and founded IncentOne to create solutions to help organizations manage their reward programs.

In 2004, I was looking to apply our model to an issue that was on the CEO’s desk. I came across a startling statistic: only 20 percent of women follow their pre-natal care. I was shocked. Then I dug deeper. First year medical costs for a healthy baby are $4,551 and for a baby who needs intensive care are $49,033.

At the moment, I think I knew my mission in life. I asked myself, “if the medical profession knows what we want each individual to do, and the savings it generates, couldn’t we simply reward people for doing these things?” Wouldn’t this solution pay for itself? If we applied this to all conditions, couldn’t we fix the system?  IncentOne shifted focus completely to healthcare and sold our non-healthcare business in 2009.

You should have seen the looks we got in the early 2000s suggesting that we use financial incentives to drive healthy behavior. The medical community was offended and employers were often shocked.  Today, financial rewards are considered one of the top 5 healthcare trends and 86 percent of companies plan to use financial rewards with their employees to address healthcare costs.

Just this year, IncentOne was purchased by Welltok, a social engagement company run by Jeff Margolis, the former CEO of Trizetto. As the former founder and CEO of IncentOne, and in my current role as the Chief Incentive Officer of Welltok, my role is to help the health marketplace optimize their incentive programs as part of their overall engagement strategy.

Considering that I am a strong believer in personal accountability, it is odd that I have become known in some circles as the inventor of healthcare incentives. Personally, I haved worked out everyday for the past 4,234 days (and counting). While personal accountability remains important to me, I realize that whether it is lack of access, time, money, or understanding, people have different circumstances and experiences that shape their behavior and decisions. I believe that incentives are the perfect marriage between an ideal and the reality.

My mission is to continue to educate and advocate for healthcare incentives so that we can grow stronger and healthier as individuals, an economy and as a Nation.