Can Health Plans Help Smokers Quit with Health Incentives?

Can Health Plans Help Smokers Quit with Health Incentives?
Health incentives can be a compelling strategy to help members make meaningful behavior changes.

When done right, health incentives reward both members and health plans with improved health outcomes and contained costs. As healthcare transitions to a value-based system, health plans will likely step up their incentives to increase member engagement in healthy behaviors.

With tobacco use specifically, incentives can boost participation and initial quit rates.

With Medicaid members, for example, moderate incentives (up to $190) have increased low-income smokers’ engagement and success in initial cessation. Likewise, moderate incentive payments effectively engaged low-income pregnant smokers’ in a quit-smoking program and boosted 6-month abstinence rates.

Yet, health incentives generally have not been found to achieve long-term quit rates. And even those incentives that have (up to $750 over the course of a year) are cost-prohibitive for most plans.

So, what is the right incentive amount that will engage members but not break the bank? The verdict is still out.

As a result, the approach to incentives used by health plans runs the gamut. However, the type of tobacco cessation used with any incentive should remain constant.

Types of Tobacco Cessation Incentives

The types of incentives used with tobacco cessation today include everything from tobacco surcharges to earning cash for gift cards at local businesses to charitable contributions.

Usually, incentives fall into one of 3 categories:

  • Rewards for one-time activities or behaviors. For example, signing up for a tobacco cessation program.
  • Rewards for long-term behavior. This might include achieving a health goal, such as not smoking for 3 months.
  • Penalties. These are often higher health plan rates, such as a tobacco surcharge, for not using services such as a cessation program.


Health planIncentive
AmbetterMembers earn $50 for completing a program.
AmeriHealth New JerseyMembers earn $100 for completing a personal health profile and a cessation program.
Anthem BlueCross BlueShield—Indiana MedicaidMembers earn $20 for starting the program and another $20 for completing the program.
Better Health Florida—MedicaidMembers earn up to $50 for completing activities. Complete a promise form, $5. Complete a support program and send in proof, $15. Quit smoking for 1 month and visit a doctor, $10. Quit smoking for 3 months and a visit doctor, $20.
Healthy Indiana PlanMembers earn up to $145 per year to use at participating stores: $40 for enrolling, $25 for participating in 1st coaching call, $30 for participating in 3rd coaching call, $50 for completing the program.
MedicaMembers earn points as they advance through their program. Points can be used for raffle tickets, discounts at local businesses or charitable contributions.
Prestige Health ChoiceMembers can earn up to $50 for completing activities, such as attending a smoking cessation seminar and submitting a certificate of completion.


While approaches to incentives vary, one thing remains the same: the type of smoking cessation program used with incentives plays a critical role in whether members achieve long-term success.

Structuring Incentives for Long-term Results

Incentives are an effective tool to get people through the door. But it takes a meaningful program that members will actually use to keep them there and achieve the goals of improved outcomes and contained costs that health plans desire.

To produce long-term results, incentives must tie to a multi-step program that builds the knowledge, skills and confidence necessary to tackle a tenacious addiction like tobacco dependence.

Our incentive structure has multiple steps that require tobacco users to familiarize themselves with a powerful suite of digital tools highly correlated with quitting success. This suite includes tailored text messaging and a personalized quit plan as well as supportive accountability from expert coaches through live chat and a vibrant online community.

By taking this approach, participants know there is 24/7 support available to help get them back on track when they are struggling with cravings, questions, and uncertainty. We’ve found this can make all the difference between a slip and full-blown relapse, affecting long-term success for quitting.

Interested in learning more about the 24/7 mobile and social resources offered through the EX Program to help your tobacco users quit for good? Please contact us to start a conversation or see a demo.


Jessie Saul, Ph.D.
Jessie Saul, Ph.D.

Client Success Director

Dr. Jessie Saul brings 16 years of experience in program evaluation and strategic planning with tobacco cessation. She applies this deep understanding to help clients improve program performance and reduce tobacco use among populations. She earned her Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University.

Human Resources Today