Getting healthy should be the only reward Americans need for the financial expenditure of belonging to a health club. However, as too many of you know, not enough people feel that way. So some fitness facilities are teaming with health plan providers to offer additional rewards — often in the form of cash, gift cards or reimbursements — that they hope will entice people through their doors. I'd prefer not to resort to bribing people to do something that is good for them, but we are witnessing dire times with the obesity epidemic and need to do something quickly to reverse our course.
The 85 percent of Americans who don't belong to a gym may have many excuses for not belonging, but I would bet lack of money for memberships is at the top of many lists. That's why the reimbursement and rewards programs could be the wave of the future for fitness facilities. Whether reward program members stick around long term remains to be seen, as Glen Gunderson, vice president of business-to-business at Life Time Fitness, told me, but that hasn't stopped the company from investing in homegrown technology to support the three health plan reward partnerships they are involved with or from continuing to research bigger and better ways to reward members.
However, I suspect few fitness facilities are going to that extreme. Some may not even go as far as Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center at MIT in Cambridge, MA. Two health plan providers approved the reimbursement of membership fees at the facility. Club members served by other health plan providers can ask for reimbursement from their plan providers, but reimbursement isn't guaranteed. The only action that Zesiger Sports and Fitness takes to facilitate the reimbursement is to offer members a letter acknowledging their membership. The member then sends the letter to his or her health plan provider to request membership reimbursement.
The letter is a start, especially for facilities that don't have the time or staff to do more, but it is only the beginning. How much more are you giving your members if you team with a program that allows members to track their health progress via a Web page and earn rewards for doing so? As they view their progress after each workout at your facility, you appear to be an even bigger partner with them on their daily journey toward better health. And, even though you don't provide the rebates or rewards yourself, the fact that they earn those rewards for working out at your facility ties your facility with the financial pat on the back offered by their health plan provider for a job well done.
Scott McFarland, vice president of innovation, product development and product management at Axia Health Management, said that health plan providers are offering reward plans not just to improve the health of their members and lower their medical expenditures but also to connect to consumers and reinvent themselves as a lifestyle brand rather than a payer of medical claims. But fitness facilities are the real lifestyle brand. Our industry needs to connect with these health plan providers to ensure that our fitness facilities are part of this new image. Clubs that don't start knocking on the doors of health plan providers in their area are not only missing a great revenue source for themselves, but they also are shutting their doors to a large number of potential new members who are just waiting for a reason beyond their own health to walk through those doors.